Call tower simulators: Liberty vs. security
The Founders and Framers prized liberty over security. But that balance is tougher to maintain when technology outpaces the law. And that's the case with the FBI's use of “cell tower simulators” that can intercept all cellphone traffic in a neighborhood.
A Trib investigation found such devices have intercepted untold numbers of innocent Pittsburghers' calls, along with those of criminal suspects. An FBI spokesman defends this technology's use as “a vital component of law enforcement investigations” that could be harmed by public discussion of details.
The feds extensively redacted nearly 5,000 related documents obtained by the Trib and will say little else. Their stance is essentially “trust us.” Yet the FBI's legal basis for charging ahead with this technology is rooted in land-line wiretaps.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on a cell tower simulator case. Congress hasn't passed rules for these devices. And FBI secrecy — from what's done with gathered data, to coaching agents on testifying about this technology without divulging details, to no-bid contracts and other methods that obscure how it's acquired and what it costs — invites scrutiny and frustrates debate.
For the law to catch up with this technology, as it must, informed debate must occur among Congress, courts and the public. And, yes, new rules must be set that adequately protect security. But like the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches — which hasn't changed — those rules must place paramount importance on liberty.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.