Two key senators want to know if the leader of the vast U.S. intelligence apparatus believes it’s legal for spooks to track where you go through your iPhone.
In a letter that Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) will send later on Thursday, obtained by Danger Room, the senators ask Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Do government agencies have the authority to collect the geolocation information of American citizens for intelligence purposes?”
Both senators are members of the panel overseeing the 16 intelligence agencies. In May, they sounded warnings that the Obama administration was secretly reinterpreting the Patriot Act to allow a broader amount of domestic surveillance than it had publicly disclosed.
“[R]ecent advances in geolocation technology have made it increasingly easy to secretly track the movements and whereabouts of individual Americans on an ongoing, 24/7 basis,” they write. “Law enforcement agencies have relied on a variety of different methods to conduct this sort of electronic surveillance, including the acquisition of cell phone mobility data from communications companies as well as the use of tracking devices covertly installed by the law enforcement agencies themselves.”
Geolocation is a particular interest of Wyden’s. Technically, there are few obstacles to clandestine geodata collection, since most mobile phones feature built-in GPS. So along with a House Republican, Jason Chaffetz, Wyden introduced a bill that would require warrants for law enforcement to collect geodata. As our sister blog Threat Level has reported, a patchwork of inconsistent recent court rulings has yet to resolve whether geolocation data is protected by the Fourth Amendment.