Apr. 23rd, 2009

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You may or may not remember when things started to go badly for Mr. Tedisco in upstate NY and Mr. Steele of the RNC stopped talking about that race and starting saying that the Republican comeback race was going to be the race for the governor of New Jersey.

Well, there may be a little hitch

TRENTON, N.J. – A former federal prosecutor running for governor approved the tracking of citizens through their cell phones without warrants while he was head of the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey, civil rights attorneys said Thursday.

Christopher Christie, a former U.S. Attorney who is the Republican front-runner in the governor's race said all actions were approved by the court.

The American Civil Liberties Union released documents Thursday showing federal officials in New Jersey have gotten judges to approve the surveillance without showing evidence that a crime is taking place.

Tracking without a warrant disregards an internal U.S. Justice Department recommendation that prosecutors obtain probable cause warrants before gathering location data from cell phones.

Using a little-known GPS chip inside a cell phone, federal prosecutors can locate a person to within about 30 feet. They're also able to gather less exact location data by tracing mobile phone signals as they ping off cell towers.

The less rigorous standard of obtaining a court order rather than a warrant was used in 98 New Jersey cases since Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in 83 prosecutions, according to the documents. Two other New Jersey cases remain under seal.

Of the cases in which probable cause wasn't established, 19 allowed the most precise tracking available, the documents show. Those cases occurred after the November 2007 Justice Department recommendation that prosecutors seek warrants. Christie said he changed the policy to comply with Washington's recommendation 11 months later.

Of the randomly sampled states, Florida and Jersey decided to go with the lesser obligation of not proving probable cause in electronically tracking citizens. States which chose not to: California, Louisiana, Indiana, and Nevada (Louisiana, Indiana and Nevada?). The District of Columbia, interestingly, also decided to assume the burden of proof.

Got privacy?

You sure?

edit: Mr. Christie explains

While serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie authorized tracking people through their cell phones without first obtaining a warrant, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today.

The ACLU released documents provided by the U.S. Department of Justice showing the U.S. Attorney's offices in New Jersey and Florida were granted permission by court order to "obtain mobile phone location information without making a judicial finding of probable cause."

The documents released by the ACLU say the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey identified 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001 -- 66 of which resulted in a criminal prosecution. "This search also found that nineteen applications were granted after November 16, 2007, to permit the government to obtain GPS or similarly precise location data on target cell phones without a judicial determination of probable cause," the document by the Department of Justice states. "Seventeen of these cases resulted in a criminal prosecution."

In an interview this afternoon following a campaign stop in Sayreville, Christie dismissed the ACLU criticism as "overblown hyperbole" and stressed the practice was legal and court approved. "Every time that technology was used, it was with court authorization,," Christie said. " That's the standard. There was no policy in place that said to us you have to get a search warrant."

Depending on the case, Christie said the U.S. Attorney's Office would at times obtain a search warrant to use cell phone tracking technology, and other times would not seek a warrant. Christie said the technology was used to track terrorism suspects, as well as those suspected of other crimes.

Be interesting to hear how he decided which suspects he wanted to try to prove to a judge he had probable cause to track, don't you think?

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