Friday, November 23, 2007

This Is What We Said Would Happen. We Told You So.

Government agents can now get warrants on demand -- no probable cause needed -- to track anyone's exact whereabouts via the GPS feature on cellphones:

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

In other words, the expansion of warrantless surveillance of suspected terrorists to the blanket authorization of government power to follow and track anyone at any time.

This is exactly the scenario that the right mocked civil liberties advocates for predicting. We were constantly told that if you were not a terrorist, you had nothing to worry about from NSA-style surveillance on electronic communications without a court order. This was not about the government spying on ordinary Americans or routine criminal activity -- this was about keeping Americans safe from another 9/11. And now the same people who sneered at such concerns are tsk-tsk-tsking about how the government is "crossing a line":
Federal agents routinely request tracking data from cellphone companies to determine the travel and assembly habits of suspects, and courts have granted them unusual leeway in obtaining the data. Are these terrorist suspects that could present a clear and imminent danger to the lives of Americans? No — just drug dealers and other usual suspects of American crime. Why, then, do the courts allow this tracking without the normal establishment of probable cause?

Because WE -- Americans -- told them they could. Because conservatives like Ed Morrissey said there was no legitimate reason to oppose secret spy programs that allowed the federal government to read our medical and library records and our e-mails, or get detailed information about our phone calling habits and history, without establishment of probable cause, if the government said they needed to do so to investigate suspected terrorist activity. Because when you allow the government to operate without essential legal checks on power just in this one little area, it doesn't ever stay in just that one little area. And because while the real patriots were being accused of subversion and treason for supporting the Constitution, the accusers were giving away our freedom.

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