NEWS: New threats to civil liberties

Cellphone tracking powers on request

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government’s request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied. [complete article]

UK ‘terrorist’ fights science-course ban

A British resident who is under surveillance for suspected terrorist activities is being prohibited from taking secondary-school-level [high school] science courses by the government, Nature has learned.

The man, referred to as A.E., is contesting the decision in court, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind. The preliminary hearing over whether A.E. should be allowed to take AS-level courses in human biology and chemistry took place on 16 November at London’s High Court. The UK Home Office, which has an order restricting A.E.’s actions and affiliations, argues that such coursework could be turned towards terrorism. His solicitors counter that the knowledge is public, and that the furthering of A.E.’s education poses no threat.

At the heart of the case is a simple question: should basic courses in science be treated as potential tools for terror when in the wrong hands? [complete article]

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