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Experts Say Wiretap Law Needs Digital Era Update 54

GovTechGuy writes "Experts at a Congressional hearing Thursday said the government needs to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to reflect changes in technology, notably location-based services. On one hand, legal experts argue tracking a mobile user's location should require a higher burden of proof than simply intercepting their communications. On the other hand, first responders may need location data in order to save lives and respond to 911 calls. Either way, expect legislation from the committee later this year."
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Experts Say Wiretap Law Needs Digital Era Update

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  • by CyprusBlue113 ( 1294000 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:52PM (#32693620)

    And the previous track record of stopping illegal wire tapping is abysmal...

    • Either way (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge ( 645043 )

      Either way, expect legislation from the committee later this year.

      A better prediction would be: "either way, expect everyone you don't want to, to have access to your location data without a court order or notification later this year".

      Why implant tracking devices into the population, if you can get them to willingly carry the tracking devices with them.

      Now, just ensure that the cell phones can be remotely turned on to listen to people's conversations, and you can start building the kind of government from which there is no escape at all.

      I think that within the next 10 ye

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The most prescient statement in the write-up.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also add the corollary: If compromises are to be achieved, expect the worst of all worlds.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:56PM (#32693684)

    Require any tracking of location to be disclosed to the target immediately. This is easy for the firetruck or EMS to handle because they've got the coordinates and they're responding immediately.

    • Of course, the trick is to inform the target in a way that doesn't inform those around them. My phone automatically lets out a "whoop" sort of noise when I call 911 which I believe is informing me that it is now making my location data available. This seems like a reasonable thing, but if you're calling to report a home invasion of some sort and you're hiding from the person who broke in, the loud whoop seems like a serious problem. In fact, any noise or light seems to be a problem in that sort of scenario.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by paeanblack ( 191171 )

      This is easy for the firetruck or EMS to handle because they've got the coordinates and they're responding immediately.

      Not necessarily. You could be reporting a fire in your downstairs neighbor's apartment. Imminent danger to human safety trumps privacy rights if they are in conflict. In some cases, imminent danger to property can also trump privacy. You want the fire department to put an axe through your neighbor's door now, not after calling his hotel room in the Bahamas. Society is pretty okay with emerg

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        That is not an issue at all or at least not the issue. The grand partent wanted the operator of the device to be informed imediately when when their location is being reported or accessed. That could be something as simple as the words "Location tracked" printed on the cell phones display. Its your location that is being remported and you who needs to be informed of this fact. If you want the fire department to break down your neighbors door because you see smoke, they don't need to inform your neighbor

      • by Imrik ( 148191 )

        Except, if you are reporting the fire, it will be your location data that's tracked, they don't need to figure out who owns the property, what their phone number is or where they are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Interesting solution to the wrong problem.

      What they need is easy access to the data, in event of an emergency, and a way to make sure that bypass of the long procedure is ONLY used in emergency. This is, sadly, NOT Uncle Sam's strong suit.

      Take Miranda rights. At first, they read them when you got questioned. Then it was decided that, in cases of emergency, that was not needed, and they could delay reading miranda, to deal with an emergency situation. Ok Fair enough.

      The problem is, this just opened the door

      • What they need is easy access to the data, in event of an emergency, and a way to make sure that bypass of the long procedure is ONLY used in emergency. This is, sadly, NOT Uncle Sam's strong suit.

        You propose a legal solution, when a technical one would be better. In fact, a technical one already exists. When I dial 911, my phone automatically transmits my location along with the call. When I call anyone else, it doesn't transmit the location. All you really need to do is ensure that location data is only sent to the person you are calling, unless you go through the long legal process. And that's something that, AFAIK, is already done in most cases.

      • by Tacvek ( 948259 )

        Whoa! the rule is simple. If it is an emergency, and the service in question is acting in a way that would help the person being tracked they can get immediate access to the data. This is the case be it somebody reporting their house is on fire, or that they need an ambulance, or that they are under attack.

        However, even in an emergency it would require a warrant to track somebody who is not direct helped by the tracking, such as tracking a suspect under investigation.

        If there is doubt, you err on the side o

    • My "location" is in the public record - it's called "my street address". Since I can't hide my street address, all the other "private" location data are a minor detail.

  • Expiration (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:04PM (#32693814)
    "The previous section of this Act expires in 5 years from date of enactment."

    How hard is that? They know that five years from now they'll never let something like this expire without an updated version to replace it.
    • Re:Expiration (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:23PM (#32694118)

      ALL laws should have an expiration date. If something still makes sense in 5/10/15/20 years, it will get repassed.

      My town still has crap like "You can't walk through any city property with a watermellon and fishing pole" from the 1800s.

      • My town still has crap like "You can't walk through any city property with a watermelon and fishing pole" from the 1800s.

        Now you've stirred my historical perspective curiosity. There must have been some reason for that law being passed.

        For the fishing pole, maybe they had a big problem with illegal fishing/poaching on city property? So just ban all fishing poles. Maybe the "no concealed weapons in bars" laws in Texas today will look silly in 200 years? Just like this Electronic Communications Privacy Act law might.

        For the watermelon, maybe the city had a monopoly watermelon concession on city property. They wanted to

        • More likely this is small town politics aimed at one specific person they didn't like rather than a behavior or activity. Then again, maybe someone was using watermelon chunks as bait, and the fish were choking on the seeds. So they made it illegal to look like you were going to attempt that.

          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            My guess would be that if that law was real it was enacted as a subtle way of signalling out poor blacks. Fishing as a means of providing food is well known amongst us poor and everyone knowns how much we like our watermelon.

      • And when they expire, the renewal should be an updated expiration date, not "Let's make this permanent" like the Patriot Act. I still don't understand why the only choices presented at that time were all or nothing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:07PM (#32693886)

    On all cell phones it says allow others to use location service or emergency only. No way to ever turn off the locator. Then they would be required to get a warrant to go get the cell phone tower data. So at that point they would definitely need some burden of proof to get that information, most of the time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Here's an idea: Emergency services can look at the data any time they want, BUT if they look at it without a warrant, it becomes forever fruit of the poison tree. Completely inadmissible in court. AND, anything they get from what they find from that line of evidence is also poisoned.

      Ambulances and fire rescue and such wouldn't care, and thus have no hinderance. Police, on the other hand, would have to be very careful and get a warrant, lest they completely screw their investigation.

  • How did we manage to indicate to emergency services where we were before cellphones with GPS? Did we all die?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      We called from landlines, and emergency services used the database of location information provided to them by the phone companies that installed the landlines. And yes, if someone was injured in a location without telephones, they did often die.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Wiarumas ( 919682 )
      You had to use a land line, which was associated with a certain address, or you needed to tell the operator where you located.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        or you needed to tell the operator where you located.

        Bingo. Same way it is now with cell phones. I'll swag it, but I doubt that more than 1 in 100,000 E911 calls are the kind where the caller is unable to tell the operator their location. It makes for high-tension commercial-break cliff-hangers to have the protagonist dial 911 and then pass out, but in real life that seems highly unlikely.

        • But at least they can dispatch someone to a rough location while asking where they are.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by peragrin ( 659227 )

          Actually it was closer to 1-100

          Remember police or EMS pulling up to the house two doors down can delay response time by five minutes or more. There are also numerous cases of ems responders pulling up to a house finding out nothing was wrong and leaving only to find out they were on the wrong side of the road. Or having the wrong apartment number out of hundred of possibles.

          The person doesn't have to pass out either having a hard time breathings also causes trouble.

          E911 locationion data was passed as laws a

          • Actually it was closer to 1-100

            If your going to dispute my swag, you really should cite your sources. You know, that "history" you smugly refer to?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Passing out is just one reason a caller may not be able to tell the operator their location.
          • The caller may be physically able to tell the operator their location but may also be extremely scared and/or panicked and so unable to respond coherently to the operator's request for their location.
          • The caller may be in unfamiliar surroundings and so not know exactly where they are ("I'm somewhere along Route 23, but there's nothing I can see in either direction".)
          • The caller may not be able to explain very well whe
    • by weicco ( 645927 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @02:25PM (#32694160)

      "Needs digital era update" equals "We need law that enables us to track every citizen when ever we feel like it". It's a synonum to "would someone please think about the children" card. And believe me, there's plenty of people who welcome these laws with open arms because "I got nothing to hide. You obviously do, which tells that we need this law". I've seen this many times in our local Finnish news sites.

      • by b0bby ( 201198 )

        It's a synonum to "would someone please think about the children" card.

        It's funny you should say that, but I'm interested in this because of my children. My kids are old enough to be home alone sometimes, but not old enough to have their own phones yet. The only reason I still have a landline, really, is for them to use when they're home alone. I've considered porting the number over to a prepaid cellphone which I could just leave plugged in for them to use, which would have the advantage that our "home" phone could come with us when traveling. So I am interested in having an

    • by stubob ( 204064 )

      Smoke signals.

    • My phone doesn't have GPS, yet the tracking for emergency services is pretty accurate.
      Some time ago, I called 911 to report the presence of an obstruction on a freeway. Before I spoke to anyone, the phone call was redirected to the highway patrol and I received an automated message telling me that they knew about the obstruction. To do this, they would have to have a farily accurate location for me and this was without GPS.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stories of this are all over the web, some abusive cop is walking all over somebody's rights, someone else starts recording them on their cell phone, and the Good Samaritan is arrested for filming the cop under wiretapping laws. Even though it's right out in public and there may be five or ten security cameras recording the same area 24/7.


  • Cop1: Let's get a warrant.
    Cop2: Don't bother, just say they might be a threat to national security.
    Cop1: Should we bother with the rubber stamp ?
    Cop2: No one else does.
    Cop1: Thanks, FISA !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Intelligence_Surveillance_Act [wikipedia.org]

  • Translation (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The police state needs an upgrade.


  • On the other hand, first responders may need location data in order to save lives and respond to 911 calls.

    Enhanced 911 Phase 2 already requires wireless phone providers to deliver sub-300 meter accurate positions of 911 callers to the responding Public Safety Answering Point. This takes full effect in September 2012. 95% of subscriber phones were required to provide such location data by 2005.

    So that entire section of the TFS is a red herring.

    • Several times we have had police show up at our building saying someone in the building dialed 911 and have to do a full scan of the building before leaving because someone set a notebook on their phone or somehow had the 9 button jammed down. Our company issued Nokia's for some reason were set so that if you hold down 9 it dials 911.
  • Wiretap updates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @03:37PM (#32695086) Journal
    A message to all the people in the US.

    Dear Citizen,

    We don't care about the courts or the Constitution with respect to your rights and privacy, and we will carry on doing what we like in secret.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Past / Present / Future President of the USA
    • Do you know of any country, in any continent, in any period of written history (maybe even before that) that this was not happening, namely the leaders/chiefs/kings/presidents not being able to "carry on doing what they liked", either in the open or in secret?

  • I propose that to the fullest extent permissible by whatever law they propose, they further agree to have every member of goverment published in real time to a publically available website, and have it published in each day's conressional record.

    Okay, the details may need some work, but I think the intent is clear. I'm open to any suggestions on improvement.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.