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Feds Want to Warrantlessly Track Phones Bought with Fake Names

Illustration for article titled Feds Want to Warrantlessly Track Phones Bought with Fake Names

If the DOJ gets its way, it won't need a warrant to monitor people who buy cell phones and other electronic services using a fake name, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal.

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The DOJ is arguing that because a California man used a fake name when he bought a broadband card, service and a computer (and rented his apartment) he's not entitled to protection under the fourth amendment.

The government used a device called a Stingray to locate the broadband card being used by Daniel David Rigmaiden. The Stingray mimics a cell phone tower, and pings the target device. It measures the signal strength, and then moves to another location and measures it again. It uses that data to triangulate the phone's position. They are increasingly being used by law enforcement.

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The FBI didn't get a warrant when it used a Stingray to locate Rigmaiden's location. At his apartment complex, it found he had used a fake ID on his rental application. It used that to get a search warrant, where it found the broadband card.

The government's argument is that it didn't need a warrant to locate Rigmaiden because he gave up his fourth ammendment rights and had no reasonable expectation of privacy when he used a fake name to rent and purchase his broadband card, service and computer.

It's in the courts, but if the DOJ wins this one, it could mean that even if you use a fake name to buy something in a non-fraudulent matter—say a burner phone—it can track you down, and perhaps even listen in. Beware, Stringer Bell. [Wall Street Journal]

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DISCUSSION

Hm... I have to ask - what do people buy phones under fake names for that isn't illegal? I understand if you want to play a joke on someone (albeit, a complicated one), but I'm sure the FBI would find no wrongdoing with your actions in such a circumstance. Maybe I'm forgetting a key market segment of the mobile phone industry, but I feel that if you're buying something like this under a fake name, you're either doing something legally dubious or ethically dubious (in which case you might be toeing the line of legal dubity [coin it].)

Insight?