While he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie gave approval to track people’s precise whereabouts through their cell phones, and he did this without a first obtaining a warrant, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
ACLU Executive Director Deborah Jacobs:
This is just the newest example of our privacy rights careening over the edge with federal officials drunk at the wheel. Big Brother is tucked away in our cell phones, and the man behind the curtain is Chris Christie.
If this accusation is true, Chris Christie grossly overstepped the authority of his office while serving in New Jersey as the federal government’s point-man for the U.S. Justice Department. And it makes it ever more clear that what he was really serving were the interests of a paranoid president of his party, George Bush, who thought little of using his authority to spy on the citizens of his country. And that would make Chris Christie New Jersey’s spy on the ground for George Bush.
ACLU’s accusations are based on Justice Department documents made public today following a July, 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF is a civil rights organization dealing with digital-age issues.The documents reveal show that the government is actively taking advantage of GPS or other similarly precise technology to monitor people’s coming and goings, specifically in New Jersey as well as Florida, and that it does not always obtain a search warrant beforehand, according to ACLU-NJ.
“Tracking the location of people’s cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy,” said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way.”
The just-released documents show that federal prosecutors in both New Jersey and Florida are obtaining court orders merely by showing the tracking information gathered is “relevant and material” to a criminal investigation. That is a much lower burden than the “probable cause” standard required by the Constitution.
The documents released by the ACLU say the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey identified 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001 — 66 of which resulted in a criminal prosecution.
“This search also found that nineteen applications were granted after November 16, 2007, to permit the government to obtain GPS or similarly precise location data on target cell phones without a judicial determination of probable cause,” the document by the Department of Justice states. “Seventeen of these cases resulted in a criminal prosecution.”
ACLU posts the documents on line, here.
Christie was the U.S.Attorney for New Jersey Jan 17, 2002 – November 2008. The documents don’t make clear how many of the applications were made during that time.
EFF senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston:
Many people aren’t aware that they can be tracked using the GPS chip in their cell phones, even when the phone is not in use. It’s time for Congress to step in and make clear that federal law requires the government to get a warrant before tracking your cell phone.
This story is being filed, quickly, and ACLU is still hunting some of this information – specifically, the names of people who were under this warrantless surveillance, using their own cell phones to track them. Who was tracked? How many? We’re going to stay on top of this story.