Law enforcement should obtain warrants before seizing location information from citizens' mobile devices, a US senator from Oregon argued recently.
"If you asked most Americans, I think they would tell you that surreptitiously turning somebody's cell phone into a modern-day tracking device ... and using it to monitor their movements, 24/7, is a pretty serious intrusion into their privacy, pretty much comparable to searching their house or tapping their phone calls," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said.
Wyden, speaking at a Cato Institute forum, added that in the 112th session of Congress, he would file legislation requiring such court orders.
A uniform legal standard for law enforcement to obtain electronic data from mobile phones is in need of updating, he noted.
However, the US Justice Department has shown little interest in revising a similar set of laws related to the 25-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
James Baker, associate deputy attorney general at the DOJ, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2010 that changing the ECPA would hinder law enforcement's ability to find criminals by tracking their electronic data.
"Congress should refrain from making changes that would impair the government's ability to obtain critical information necessary to build criminal, national security and cyber-investigations, particularly if those changes would not provide any appreciable or meaningful improvement in privacy protection," he said.
Wyden maintained, however, that the current laws are confusing to law enforcement and invading the privacy of Americans.
"The government spends vast amounts of time and resources litigating what ought to be laid in straightforward rules," he said.
Wyden has been at the forefront of issues surrounding electronic data. Last fall he voiced public opposition to a bill that critics said would have given the government power to censor the Internet.
That bill, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), would have permitted a blanket takedown of any domain alleged to be assisting activities that violate copyright law, based upon the judgment of state attorneys general.
With reporting by Stephen C. Webster.