recommended reading

Yes, the government can still spy on your digital life (for now)


Ahead of a controversial Senate debate on digital privacy this week, the battle over warrantless cell-phone and Internet searches is beginning to take shape — even as law-enforcement agencies continue to carry out the searches anyway. Judges across the country have thrown out cases that used tracked digital American lives without warrants, but others haven't, reports The New York Times's Somini Sengupta. A DC court, for example, compared text messages to voicemail messages, which because they can be overheard are not protected by state privacy laws, argued one judge. A Louisiana court is deciding if cell-phone records are like business records. Another court ruled that GPS cell phone tracking without a warrant was fine, too. Others, however, argue that cell phones are more than just a paper trail. One judge called cell phones "raw, unvarnished and immediate, revealing the most intimate of thoughts and emotions," as in something that is subject to higher privacy standards. Meanwhile, we see the same inconsistencies with Internet protections, reports The Wall Street Journal's Joe Pallazolo. A federal court recently ruled that people who use their neighbors' WiFi without permission forfeit privacy, opening up government officials to warrantless searches. The same ruling other courts have made for IP addresses. However, the law isn't that clear-cut, either, argues George Washington University professor Oren Kerr. 

Without clear rules, government agencies have continued investigations with warrantless searches. As people have started using cell phones more often and for more than just calling, law enforcement agency requests for cell-phone information have increased, reported The New York Times's Eric Lichtblau earlier this year. AT&T gets more than 700 requests a day from various agencies, triple what it got in 2007, he notes. Last year, the total number of requests came in at at least 1.3 million. At the same time, the application for wiretapping warrants declined 14 percent last year to 2,732, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. A curious pattern considering the requests for information have gone up. Though these wireless carriers say they require a search warrant, a court order or a formal subpoena to release information, "in cases that law enforcement officials deem an emergency, a less formal request is often enough," writes Lichtblau. Or, it's possible that law enforcement has opted for other forms of tracking that don't require warrants, at least not according to some judges. 

Read more at The Atlantic Wire

(Image via michaeljung/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.