In a blockbuster new report, the New York Times reveals that for years AT&T has willingly enlisted as a partner with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to hand over on request data on all calls that go through AT&T switches (which includes some calls not placed by or to its own customers). Included is data on the location of cellphone users, which goes beyond what the government has been known to have at its fingertips through routine-access, unresisted “administrative subpoenas” not disclosed to the surveillance target. More: Guardian, Daily Dot, Business Insider; James Joyner on warrant-dodging “administrative subpoenas”.
Buried at the end of the Times story is that although this extraordinarily intrusive snooping apparatus is rationalized as a Drug War measure, they use it against ordinary crime too:
The PowerPoint slides outline several “success stories” highlighting the program’s achievements and showing that it is used in investigating a range of crimes, not just drug violations. The slides emphasize the program’s value in tracing suspects who use replacement phones, sometimes called “burner” phones, who switch phone numbers or who are otherwise difficult to locate or identify.
In March 2013, for instance, Hemisphere found the new phone number and location of a man who impersonated a general at a San Diego Navy base and then ran over a Navy intelligence agent. A month earlier the program helped catch a South Carolina woman who had made a series of bomb threats.
Not really unrelatedly, it develops that analysts’ practice of using NSA surveillance to spy on their romantic interests — a practice common enough to have its own nickname, “LOVEINT” — comes to light mostly when voluntarily self-disclosed, not because some other safeguards are succeeding in catching it [Business Insider]
“In a case of first impression, a New Jersey appeals court has held that a remote texter can be held liable to third parties for injuries caused when the distracted driver has an accident,” if the third party has reason to know that the text will be read while driving. The court upheld a lower court ruling finding that not enough proof of such knowledge had been offered to defeat a motion for summary judgment. [ABA Journal, earlier here and here; related, Stoll] A different view: Eugene Volokh.
Perhaps inevitably, following revelations that NSA surveillance data is being passed on to law enforcement for use against drug crimes and other non-terrorist offenses, criminal defense lawyers are demanding that the government turn over surveillance-obtained data and recordings that might help their clients’ case. And thus do telephone and online records that would once have been considered private wind up spilling out to wider circles of users for wider ranges of purposes. How long before we begin to see attempts to use them in civil suits? [Miami Herald]
It’s being covered everywhere (Ars Technica, CNet, Above the Law) but not all the stories have been quick to pick up on this potentially relevant detail: “Sevier’s license to practice law was placed on ‘disability inactive status’ in December of 2011,” the reason given being “mental infirmity or illness.” [Ryan Grenoble, HuffPo]
Lawyer in Apple’s law firm turns out to have been secretly advising and investing in patent-holding entity (repped by Hagens Berman) preparing a legal onslaught against Apple. “Why didn’t Morgan Lewis … see an ethical problem in letting one of its partners invest in a patent troll, especially one specially designed to target one of the firm’s big clients? And how many other big-firm lawyers are entwined with ‘start-ups’ that are actually holding companies, created to attack the very corporations they are supposed to be defending?” [Joe Mullin, Ars Technica via @tedfrank]
“A Michigan judge whose smartphone disrupted a hearing in his own courtroom has held himself in contempt and paid $25 for the infraction.” [AP]
My Cato post is here. I’d wish him bon voyage, but somehow it’s hard to associate him with happy travels.
Update: I’ve now expanded my thoughts into a Daily Caller op-ed.
“…have seen crashes actually go up rather than down.” [Andrew Adams, KSL via Alex Tabarrok, on Insurance Institute for Highway Safety figures]
“Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila. A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter. Prosecutors had said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake after studying tremors that had shaken the city.” [BBC, earlier] More: Orac.
Speaking of science and the Italian courts, Italy’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a litigant claiming cellphone use caused his brain tumor; most authorities have found no such link [Telegraph]
Politico quotes me on the latest harebrained idea from the U.S. Department of Transportation, known for Secretary Ray LaHood’s crusade against “distracted driving”:
Olson called the idea that law enforcement would be focused on using spotters perched atop overpasses “creepy” and suggested it turns police officers into “peeping toms.”
“We drive under [overpasses], so it’s not a perfect expectation of privacy; but if we saw someone staring down and hoping to look into our laps, we’d think of them as creepy,” Olson said.
Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which has been out front of the effort to curb distracted driving, scoffed at the notion that there is any expectation of privacy in a car.
Earlier here, etc.
Thanks to the federal Lifeline Universal Service program — you helped pay via an extra line of charges on your own bill — freebie cellphones now abound in many American cities, with 231,000 having been given away in Maryland alone [Fox Baltimore via Amy Alkon]