Leahy And Grassley Step Up Pressure On Justice Department For Details On Use of Cell Phone Tracking Technology

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, March 24, 2015) – Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are stepping up their push for answers from top Obama administration officials on the use of cell-site simulators, which can sweep up the cell phone signals of innocent Americans without their knowledge.  Their new letter is a continuation of their work together examining privacy implications and concerns raised by law enforcement agencies’ use of new technologies.

Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and Leahy is the panel’s Ranking Member and former chairman.  The two lawmakers have forged a decades-long partnership on a variety of oversight issues, also including, for instance, the protection of federal whistleblowers.

In their new letter last week to Attorney General Eric Holder and Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Leahy and Grassley raised questions about recent news reports asserting that federal law enforcement agencies have deployed cell phone tracking technology received from intelligence agencies.  Specifically, the lawmakers are asking about the legal and privacy implications of this technology.

“In December, we asked about the full range of DOJ entities that use this technology, the policies in place to protect the privacy interests of third parties whose information might be collected by these devices, and the legal process that is sought prior to their deployment, including the information provided to courts that may authorize their use,” the senators wrote.  “DOJ’s failure to answer these questions has heightened our concerns.”

In December, Leahy and Grassley asked Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about the use of cell-site simulators and raised questions about exceptions to a new FBI policy to obtain a search warrant before using the technology. 

Leahy and Grassley have also raised privacy concerns about other forms of technology used by law enforcement agencies.  In January they questioned the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) use of a national database to track the movement of vehicles around the United States.  Leahy and Grassley also pressed the administration in January on the reported use of radar technology that may enable law enforcement agencies to track the movements of private citizens inside their homes.

A copy of the March 18 letter to Attorney General Holder can be found online.

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