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Big Brother Wants Warrantless Access to Your Smartphone

Imagine you’re a journalist, meeting with a secret government source. Thanks to the information provided by this source, you break an astronomically important story of government fraud or abuse. After the story breaks, the government decides it wants to go back and look at your cell phone’s historic geolocation information and metadata, tracking your every move and jeopardizing your source. Current Supreme Court precedent and a decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allow government to collect this type of metadata without a warrant.

That’s why a group of 20 media organizations has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to overturn the lower court’s order, and require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before collecting archived cell phone location data and metadata. The brief is signed by media nonprofits such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and media publishers like First Look Media, publisher of The Intercept.

The organizations argue, rightly so, that the First and Fourth Amendment go hand and hand. If, for example, the spying apparatus can keep close tabs on all government officials who may have material worth leaking, or whistleblowers cannot be assured that their communications and location are private, they will most certainly be afraid to speak out against government wrongdoing. This type of Big Brother paranoia inevitably has a chilling effect on speech, particularly political speech.

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