Tester: New government program to track phones invades privacy, could violate U.S. Constitution
Senator questions Attorney General, Homeland Secretary about reported use of dirtbox surveillance devices
(U.S. Senate) - Senator Jon Tester is expressing grave concerns that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security may be violating the U.S. Constitution to illegally track Americans' cell phones.
Recent reports reveal that multiple government agencies - including the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency - are using planes equipped with International Mobile Subscriber Identity catching surveillance devices, also known as ‘dirtboxes,' to secretly collect data from Americans' cell phones.
Dirtboxes act like cell phone towers, intercepting all nearby phone signals - including those in homes - to collect electronic information that can be used to identify the location and owner of each phone.
Tester, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, made clear that the use of dirtboxes could be a violation of Americans' Constitutional rights.
"These devices potentially violate the Fourth Amendment and represent a significant intrusion into the private lives of thousands of Americans," Tester said. "While we all want law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders, Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy rights in the process."
Tester asked Holder and Johnson to provide answers about the depth and breadth of dirtbox usage. He intends to make their answers public. He told the officials that given the "extreme lengths" to which federal agencies have gone to keep similar surveillance technologies secret, strict oversight is necessary.
Tester is a strong supporter of Americans' civil liberties, including calling out the Homeland Security Department earlier this year for proposing a national license plate database.
Tester's letter is cosigned by Senators John Walsh (D-Mont.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).