Senators Investigating How Often The Justice Department Scans Civilian Cell Phones

Ever since the Patriot Act, Americans have been especially nervous about how closely the United States government has been tracking private devices like cell phones. After Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s monitoring of private information, the nation reached a boiling point, with many citizens calling for an end to privacy violations. Now it seems U.S. senators are taking the reigns in finding out just how frequently the Justice Department scans and tracks cell phones.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pressuring the Justice Department for answers about cell phone scanning, hoping to learn how often the agency tracks cell phones and under what circumstances. While the Justice Department reportedly scans cell phones solely for the purpose of tracking down criminals, the Senators claim that one government agency recently altered their policy on when and how to scan cell phones, so an investigation is more important now than ever.

According to the Associated Press, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee publicized on Wednesday that they were concerned about the Obama administration’s use of surveillance technology and the gathering of private cell phone data for undisclosed reasons. Senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to determine whether certain law-enforcement agencies “have adequately considered the privacy interests of other individuals who are not targets of the inception, but whose information is nevertheless being collected when these devices are used.”

The letter said, in part, “The Judiciary Committee needs a broader understanding of the full range of law enforcement agencies that use this technology, the policies in place to protect the privacy interests of those whose information might be collected using these devices, and the legal process that DOJ and DHS entities seek prior to using them.”

In particular, senators are concerned about the requirement of obtaining a search warrant before obtaining cell phone information, which has a few major exceptions to the rule that allows law-enforcement authorities to scan cell phones without having to ask the cell phone user or service provider. These exceptions included criminal cases involving fugitives, imminent public safety danger, or cases in which the cell phone is being used in a non-private location.

The letter was prompted by a recent news story revealing how U.S. Marshals use special technology to mimic cell phone towers. They then use these fake towers to scan through private cell phone data to locate the cell phones of criminal suspects. This story, among other government privacy violations, has sparked an outcry from the general public and privacy advocates across the country. While the Justice Department has neither confirmed nor denied the use of technology to scan cell phones, they have claimed their activity is completely legal. Government officials have also claimed that law-enforcement agencies do not keep cell phone records of innocent civilians. However, spokesman for the Justice Department Emily Pierce says the letter is under review.

What do you think about the cell phone scanning? Do you believe the Justice Department or the FBI has a right to scan your cell phone to track down criminals?

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