UK Phone Hacking Whistleblower Found Dead
Sean Hoare, the first journalist to expose the phone hacking scandal and Andy Coulson, has been found dead at his home. Hoare originally went to the New York Times with the story. He recently disclosed that reporters paid police to be able to "ping" the phones of celebrities.
He said journalists were able to use a technique called "pinging" which measured the distance between mobile handsets and a number of phone masts to pinpoint its location.
Hoare gave further details about the use of "pinging" to the Guardian last week. He described how reporters would ask a news desk executive to obtain the location of a target: "Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news desk would come back and say 'right that's where they are.'"
More on the pinging here. [More...]
Police in this country routinely use pinging when they get court orders for cell-site locator information. They call the phone and "ping it" to see what cell tower it's near. That lets them know where to send physical surveillance officers. If the suspect is at home, there's a big Fourth Amendment issue and many magistrate judges around the country have denied pen register requests that include cell site locator information for that reason: a pen register can be gotten with a court order that the information sought is relevant to an ongoing investigation, while a search warrant establishing probable cause should be required to "ping" someone in their own home.
Disclosure of cell site information turns a mobile telephone into a "tracking device" and disclosure should not be authorized without a showing of probable cause.
Cell site data provides the location of the cell phone tower supplying service to a cell phone during a telephone call. It can be obtained from the cell phone service provider within a few seconds of the call.
Geo-location information provides the location of a cell phone within several hundred meters. In providing the information to the Government, cell phone companies are informing it of the specific location of a phone at a particular time.
In some cases, the Government asks for cell site location data not just of the phone it is investigating, but for all numbers dialed to and from the phone. That could be anyone.
Also see, EFF here.
'Pinging' is a big deal, and is used widely by law enforcement here. Congress should make it clear that pinging requires probable cause and a warrant, just like a wiretap order or a search warrant.
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