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Technology and government surveillance: a growing concern

Here's a hypothetical that seems logically drawn from the many news stories of late focused upon government spying on citizenry.

Imagine that you have committed a federal or state crime in Arkansas. No government agency or law enforcement office is looking for you or has targeted you in reference to that offense or any other alleged act of wrongdoing.

Now imagine that, in its effort to find and arrest another person on a criminal charge, an enforcement agency has employed a tactic called a "tower dump." A dump allows police agencies to obtain a wide range of data concerning an individual's location and activities through collecting cellphone data from one or more cellphone towers. A byproduct of a dump is that the cellphone records of many thousands of other people unconnected to the police investigation can also be retrieved and available for scrutiny.

As a result of the dump, that individual is located and arrested. As a peripheral consequence, the police also arrest you after perusal of your personal information alerts them to your earlier crime.

Is there anything wrong with that picture?

To a wide swath of critics that embraces criminal defense attorneys, former judges, constitutional experts, privacy advocates and common citizens, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” Such a tactic allows the government to find and examine private information about an individual that could be damning, without enforcement officials having any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity initially.

In other words, it enables them to probe into private lives without a warrant or probable cause to do so, and it directly implicates the Constitution’s ban against unreasonable search and seizure.

The subject understandably makes many Americans nervous on principle alone, even if they haven’t engaged in any criminal activity.

And even if they have, warrantless snooping by the government in the absence of probable cause to do so is equally concerning for its erosion of a fundamental right under our Constitution.

Stories concerning government surveillance are surfacing in the media these days with increasing frequency. The subject is important, and we will keep readers duly apprised of any material developments.

Source: USA TODAY, "Cellphone data spying: It's not just the NSA," John Kelly, Dec. 8, 2013

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