Senators ask if smartphone spying is fair game

Two US senators have written to the US department of Spookage and asked if it’s considered a good idea to use people’s smartphones to spy on them.

According to Wired, Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon have written to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, asking if government agencies had the authority to collect the geolocation information of American citizens for intelligence purposes.

The pair look after 16 intelligence agencies between them, and in May warned that the Obama administration was secretly reinterpreting the Patriot Act to allow a broader amount of domestic spying than it went public with.

The letter said that with the advances in geolocation technology, it is a doddle to secretly track the movements and whereabouts of individual Americans through their smartphones.

Wyden is particularly worried about geolocation as there are few things to stop secret  geodata collection, since most mobile phones feature built-in GPS. He has introduced a bill that would require warrants for coppers to collect geodata.

US courts can’t make up their minds whether or not geolocation is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

However, the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programs gave spy agencies a huge amount of power to collect metadata on Americans’ communications abroad.  It would be technically possible to track US citizens while overseas.

While some Europeans might be thinking “why do I care if the US acts like big brother to its own citizens?” The thing is that, as Microsoft has revealed, the spooks could use the Patriot Act to force US companies to turn over location details of people overseas.

Suddenly an iPhone does not seem a very good purchase for any member of MI5, although a Nokia, or RIM one would be OK.

It is not clear if the US spooks consider this fair game or not, which is why Wyden and Udall say they want an “unclassified answer” from Clapper.

If Clapper thinks his spies can go after US citizens’ geodata, then Wyden and Udall want to know the laws that the spooks are using to justify that collection.

If Clapper thinks it is illegal, then the senators want to know if the troops on the ground have been told.

Currently legislative restrictions on GPS acquisition so far only applies to cops and feds, and not spies.