Wired - National Security Agency snoops are harvesting as many as 5 billion records daily to track mobile phones as they ping nearby cell towers across the globe.
That alarming scoop by The Washington Post
via documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden included wishful
thinking from an unnamed government “intelligence lawyer” interviewed in
the story. This official, according to the Post, said that the data “are not covered by the Fourth Amendment,” meaning a probable-cause warrant isn’t required to get it.
In reality, however, the case law on cell-site locational tracking —
while generally favorable to the government — is far from clear, with
federal courts and appellate courts offering mixed rulings on whether
warrants are needed.
And it’s a big deal. As of last year, there were 326.4 million
wireless subscriber accounts, exceeding the U.S. population, responsible
for 2.3 trillion annual minutes of calls, according to the Wireless Association.
All the while, warrantless cell-phone location tracking has become a de facto method to snoop on criminals in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that probable-cause warrants from judges are generally needed to affix covert GPS devices to vehicles.