(Reuters) – The U.S. Congress should pass a law to give investigators freer access to certain cellphone records, an Obama administration official said on Thursday, in remarks that raised concern among advocates of civil liberties and privacy.
Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division, argued that requirements for warrants at early stages of investigations would “cripple” prosecutors and law enforcement.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that a warrant was needed to put a GPS satellite tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle, prompting questions about other instances where probable-cause warrants should be needed to obtain information in the rapidly changing world of mobile devices.
Federal courts around the country are split on whether to require warrants for records of phone usage collected at towers that transmit cellphone signals, Weinstein told a conference.
While prosecutors have been told to get warrants to put a tracking device on a vehicle or to track the precise GPS location of a person via their cellphone, they should not be needed to obtain data from the towers, Weinstein said.
“There really is no fairness and no justice when the law applies differently to different people depending on which courthouse you’re sitting in,” he said at the “State of the Mobile Net” conference sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.