The Department of Justice fell under scrutiny during a hearing Wednesday as a secret memorandum was released to only two ranking members of the House of Representative’s Oversight and Government Reform committee for review.
The hearing was held to discuss a growing conversation over Geolocation Technology and its potential infringement upon Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
“One of the problems we had to deal with related to the use of a GPS device was how to satisfy the “particularity requirement” for a search warrant when the product of the proposed search is neither in a particular location nor is a particular item,” said Michael Doucette Commonwealth Attorney City of Lynchburg, Va., in his testimony.
However, the framework of the hearing slowly became an attack against DOJ spokesman Richard Downing and the potential impact of withholding a memo created after Jones v. United States — a case in which the late Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court. (RELATED: Supreme Court justice: Warrantless GPS tracking ‘sounds like 1984’)
Unanimously, the justices acknowledged that the unwarranted installation of a GPS tracking device was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and all surveillance gained without a warrant was unjust, no matter the defendant’s alleged criminal activity.
Upon conclusion of Jones’ trial, the creation of the supposed memo clarified the stipulation by which a person or persons could track individuals.
Nevertheless, according to Oversight Chairman [crscore]Jason Chaffetz[/crscore], the issue is tougher than simple tracking, due to the fact that it is still unclear whether information gathered via geolocation, is metadata or content.
This was a consistent point introduced by panelist American Civil Liberties Union Neema Guliani during her testimony:
“More than 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone,” she said. “Americans carry mobile phones with them to a variety of sensitive or private locations, including homes, churches, doctor’s offices, domestic abuse shelters, or even gun rallies.”
According to Guliani, whether it is old location information or recent, there is no distinction. It is a part of everyday American lives.
Expressing the need of unified legal standards and guidelines to manage the use of geolocation technology at the local, state, and federal level, members of the panel and subcommittee questioned the DOJ intentions by withholding the document from Congress and the American people.
“This breeds mistrust when you don’t trust Congress,” Rep. [crscore]Thomas Massie[/crscore] of Kentucky said during the hearing. “We are trusted with many other secrets of national importance and I think the people’s representatives – if not the people, at least the people’s representatives—deserve to know how the laws are being interpreted, and how they are going to affect them.”
It was a common theme in the hearing among the subcommittee that American citizen were being kept in the dark—stating agencies have the ability to track persons movements within five to ten miles dating back as far as half a year.
In fact, according to the majority of officials, GPS tracking technology ranging from cell-site stimulators to technology referenced as “Stingrays were widely used among agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, and the Internal Revenue Service for a while. (RELATED: The Government’s New Right To Track Your Every Move With GPS)
“I know you got this Jones memo that you have given out to all law enforcement in the federal government, but won’t show Congress and there for the American people,” said Rep. [crscore]Jim Jordan[/crscore] of Ohio. “You haven’t sent it to [the IRS], but yet this is the guideline we are supposed to deal with—this important privacy of which was so important that you gave it to everyone in the Justice department but you won’t let congress see it.”
Rep. Jordan said, “It’s scary.”
Members of the subcommittee believed that GPS technology is already part of American’s ever day lives — from their Facebook accounts to their personal vehicles.
“You have a choice here today–to start to work it where we can help law enforcement enforce it and still protect our Fourth Amendment rights or you’re going to find yourself without a tool very quickly,” North Carolina Rep. [crscore]Mark Meadows[/crscore] said.
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