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Chief NSA Lawyer Hints That NSA May Be Tracking US Citizens

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the this-story-may-exist dept.

Government 213

itwbennett writes "Responding to questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, Matthew Olsen, the NSA's general counsel, said that the NSA 'may', under 'certain circumstances' have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it's 'very complicated.' 'There's no need to panic, or start shopping for aluminum-foil headwear,' says blogger Kevin Fogarty, but clearly the NSA has been thinking about it enough 'that the agency's chief lawyer was able to speak intelligently about it off the cuff while interviewing for a different job.'"

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Very complicated (0)

davegravy (1019182) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888066)

the NSA 'may', under 'certain circumstances' have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it's 'very complicated.'

"Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

Re:Very complicated (5, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888160)

"Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

Re:Very complicated (1)

black soap (2201626) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888200)

"Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

Actually, that is pretty good, considering most House committees haven't gotten past spoons.

Re:Very complicated (1)

Applekid (993327) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888358)

"Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

Actually, that is pretty good, considering most House committees haven't gotten past spoons.

Ah, that's what all that talk about "silver spoons" is all about.

Re:Very complicated (4, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888628)

I think it was a Terry Pratchett reference: "He realized that not only was he not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he might even be a spoon".

Re:Very complicated (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888250)

You mean a spoon. Forks are pretty complicated with those 4 prongy thingies.

Re:Very complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888812)

"Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

They're holding it wrong.

Re:Very complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888860)

No, remember this is a Senate committee. "Very complicated" is anything more advanced than a fork.

Fork!? Congress cannot be trusted with anything sharper than a rubber ball.

Re:Very complicated (5, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888270)

"Very complicated", referring of course to the process of determining whether your political leanings are threatening or not to the government in power.

Possibly, but you have to understand that "the government in power" in this case isn't Obama, or Bush, or Congress, but instead the TLAs and their massive and growing secret activities. It doesn't matter, for instance, that they've knowingly and repeatedly violated the law - both the Attorney General and the federal courts have said, in short, "Regardless of whether the agency broke the law, you can't talk about it in an open courtroom. Case dismissed."

I'm going to also assume they've acquired dirt on most of Congress as well as the President and most presidential candidates, as a way to prevent their funding from being taken.

Re:Very complicated (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888660)

It matters a little. It's hard to use illegally gathered information against you in court.

Re:Very complicated (4, Informative)

Ohrion (814105) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888780)

In court? Spying agencies don't need to bother with court. They can get information to the right people to effect the change they desire.

Re:Very complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36889060)

Sounds like Nikita.

Re:Very complicated (2)

Roachie (2180772) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888594)

What going to be 'very complicated' is reinventing the guillotine.

It would appear that we will have a lot of practice.

During the hearing . . . (5, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888072)

. . . Fox News correspondents were seen sweating, nervously adjusting their collars, and making "SHHHH!" gestures to Mr. Olsen.

May be? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888074)

What about the secret rooms of ATT, where domestic US traffic was routed to the NSA?

NSA is, not "may be".

Re:May be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888258)

You are assuming AT&T is the only culprit here? Every major carrier offers a direct feed off their backbone to our benevolent overseers in Fort Meade.

Re:May be? (1)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888890)

You are quite mistaken if you think every major player does it. Qwest got in trouble two years ago for NOT doing it. Cox here in the southwest at least is the same way. Few other carriers are as large as ATT so its quite impractical for most other players to do it. Verizon and ATT probably do it but anyone else I doubt it. Time Warner might be in on it but it's mostly the old telcos that are working with the government rather than the old cable companies.

"May" ?? +3, Anonymous (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888082)

The chief NSA lawyer is surely a credible source.

  The NSA tracks EVERYONE [slashdot.org].

Yours In Miami,
Anonymous

Certain circumstances? (3, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888106)

On days that end in "Y", in months that have more than 27 days

Re:Certain circumstances? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888244)

Or Bra size

Re:Certain circumstances? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888648)

Leap seconds included.

This is my "shocked" face (4, Insightful)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888108)

So much for Imperial America going away with Bush the Lesser.

Re:This is my "shocked" face (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888846)

Yeah, what he said, cuz, like, it was Bush that started it, and stuff... Dipshit.

See this? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888112)

This is my shocked face :O

Re:See this? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888192)

Your shocked face looks similar to that of your mother. I see it everytime I unzip my pants in front of her face prior to the futile attempts which follow to fit even the head of my cock in her mouth. Don't worry though she's a trooper and tries her very best, so I don't hit her when she can't deep throat me.

Re:See this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888632)

Well if you cock cant get past the lip, I understand your frustration.

"Under Certain Circumstances" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888120)

"Under Certain circumstances" = anyone, anytime, anywhere with no warrant.

Have Authority != Do Anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888146)

The "certain circumstances" would be if (and only if) the NSA has a proper search warrant. But, the NSA, and many other U.S. federal agencies, have demonstrated that they will invade your privacy if they want to, regardless of whether or not they have the authority to do so.

Re:Have Authority != Do Anyway (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888792)

Obviously, you didn't read TFA:

"There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist," even if the NSA has no warrant to investigate a the [sic] person whose privacy it is invading or global permission to eavesdrop on everyone, according to Matthew Olsen, the NSA's general counsel.

Treasonous Spies! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888148)

Discuss?:

Those government officials giving aid and comfort to the enemies of this country by invading the privacy of its citizens without proper warrants should be treated as the treasonous spies that they are after due process of law. This should include those officials passing laws enabling this sort of abuse and those laws should be declared unconstitutional.

Unthinkable scenario (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888154)

It is definitely unthinkable that the "certain circumstances" could be when the FISA court has issued a warrant. Right?

Re:Unthinkable scenario (2)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888234)

Hey, which side are you on here? Are you a fearless defender of liberty or a loathsome Communist oppressor? You're really starting to worry me...

Re:Unthinkable scenario (1)

Dreamlandlocal (978245) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888384)

I'll see your FISA warrant and raise you a Patriot Act: Warrantless Wiretapping at the turn, "aw crap, just spy on everybody" a few years down the river.

Re:Unthinkable scenario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888516)

I thought that Thomas Drake already reported about that, the NSA has been performing warrantless wiretapping for a while with Trailblazer.

Re:Unthinkable scenario (1)

Dreamlandlocal (978245) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888576)

Right. FISA warrants are are unnecessary now. There are a few restrictions on warrantless wiretaps that haven't been eliminated... yet. They need a few more years to work on that.

trailblazer technically defunct, they use (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888698)

an unnamed project called by Bush after it was revealed the "terrorist surveillance program" (not its real name)

the NSA also uses pieces of the earlier Thinthread project, but with their privacy and anonmyization guts ripped out

the newest IT system (and/or "transformation system") they have is 'Turbulence', which includes offensive capabilities according to James Bamford's "Shadow Factory"

Re:Unthinkable scenario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888838)

Correction: I meant ThinThread, not Trailblazer. Trailblazer was the several billion dollar waste of money.

How is this anything new? (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888202)

Tracking via cellular phones has been doable with a decent degree
As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

Re:How is this anything new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888222)

As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

+5 Politician

Re:How is this anything new? (4, Insightful)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888224)

Because the mission of the NSA isn't law enforcement, and it's a bit chilling to know that the spy agency that is more secretive than the CIA is actually pointing their sights at American citizens, which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing.

Re:How is this anything new? (4, Informative)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888286)

which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing

Unless those people are in communication with people outside the country, in which case they (the domestic phone users) are one half of the call and tracking that is precisely what they're supposed to be doing.

Re:How is this anything new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888550)

which is NOT what they're supposed to be doing

Unless those people are in communication with people outside the country, in which case they (the domestic phone users) are one half of the call and tracking that is precisely what they're supposed to be doing.

DING!!! DING!!! DING!!! We have the winner!

If the NSA or any other TLA catches you making chit-chat with your terrorist buddies outside the United States about how you and your buddies from down at the mosque would all give your left nuts to commence martyrdom operations against your infidel American neighbors then agents are going to be tapping your shit six ways from Sunday.

they also catch soldiers phone sex with their (3, Insightful)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888724)

wives back home. while they are deployed to afghanistan. at least according to Bamford's "Shadow Factory" (citing Adrienne Kinney, a former intelligence worker who was at an NSA in Georgia)

Re:How is this anything new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888730)

So monitor communications at the border, not inside. And after a reasonable cause is established, monitor that particular comm device while applying for a warrant.

Re:How is this anything new? (5, Insightful)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888564)

As long as the circumstances are "when we have a warrant", then I don't see an issue.

I do. NSA was chartered for the purpose of gathering electronic intelligence of our enemies abroad (at the time of its inception, the Soviet Union). I worked at NSA in the late '80s, and at the time, there were signs posted all over warning that NSA was specifically prohibited by executive order from conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens within the United States. The FBI is tasked with domestic law enforcement, not NSA; NSA has no business whatsoever conducting surveillance on American citizens within the U.S.

Re:How is this anything new? (3, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888678)

If the "certain circumstances" were "when we have a warrant" he wouldn't have had to beat around the bush, he'd simply have said "when we have a warrant".

What is the default assumption of cryptography? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888226)

Always assume they have the code.

I don't see a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888246)

I always say that if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to worry about.

Mind you I'm stoned dude, and a bit stupid. That doesn't help.

Espionage 101 (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888274)

Always use a pay phone.

Re:Espionage 101 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888368)

a what?

Re:Espionage 101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888500)

Pay phones?? What old movies have you been watching? I haven't found a working payphone in ages. What you want is a burn phone, a prepaid throwaway cell phone paid for with cash while not recorded on a store's video surveillance.

Re:Espionage 101 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888602)

Pay a bum to go buy the phone and some liquor. That way the only person that has a memory of you is a drunk homeless person that could be killed quietly if necessary.

??? you realize (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888754)

how many great artists and scientists have been at some time or another, drunk and/or homeless?

but it's 'very complicated.' (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888282)

I'm sure the equipment to do this is.

Re:but it's 'very complicated.' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888416)

"very complicated" my patootie... They have to know about where you are to route the call properly...

Republicans - silly guys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888380)

Between that and the pesky old Fourth Amendment rules against illegal search and seizure, the obvious answer would be 'No.'

If you do nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide! Unless of course, the powers that be mistake you for someone else, abuse their power because they don't like you (Berkeley Atheist Homosexual), or because of their stupidity.

Then again, it's to fight those terrorists! At the cost of billions of more dollars ... let's just cut "entitlement" programs to pay for this because the Muslims! Entitlement programs just pay for poor people - who are that way because they don't work hard - to sit around watch TV, drink Cold .45, eat fried chicken and watermelon and vote for Obama's horrific policies - don't ask me what those policies are - they're just horrible because ... Obama!

Only a Liberal would be worried about the Fourth Amendment and those stupid Rights! Our founding Fathers would never have put up with this! Those Christian men knew what held this country together!

Re:Republicans - silly guys (0)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888820)

Between that and the pesky old Fourth Amendment rules against illegal search and seizure, the obvious answer would be 'No.'

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, and says warrants can only be issued on probable cause.

It says nothing about *illegal* searches. You can be illegally searched and still not have had your Fourth Amendment rights violated--that would just mean there's a legal protection more extensive than the Fourth Amendment limiting the government's right to search you. State law protecting the contents of your garbage from being rummaged through, for example.

Well yeah (4, Insightful)

oGMo (379) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888382)

I'm hardly going to debate the ethics or constitutionality or whatever of this, because to the following, it's irrelevant:

If you care about your privacy that much, why are you willingly carrying around a device that's transmitting your position with little or no encryption to everyone who wants to see it? If you want to secure your network, do you leave an open WAP transmitting its SSID as widely as possible? This isn't someone planting a tracking device. This is you shouting loudly to everyone that you're here, and then complaining when someone takes note.

Re:Well yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888454)

By your logic, owning a house and car that is in any way visible merits the theft of all your worldly goods. Troll harder, friend.

Re:Well yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888510)

By your logic, knowing someone's location is the same as stealing goods.

Re:Well yeah (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888476)

So I can't use a smart phone cause the NSA will track me?

Why can't my GPS be RSA encrypted?

  Who controls the GPS?

It's relevant because next suddenly the button to toggle my GPS gets removed and the absolute worst thing I have to fear there is reduced battery life right?? :)

Re:Well yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888624)

So I can't use a smart phone cause the NSA will track me?

You can make a choice not to use a smart phone (or a cell phone, period) if you'd prefer. No one is forcing one into your hands.

Why can't my GPS be RSA encrypted?

It can be. Ready to shell out the $billions that it will take to revamp the cell infrastructure in the US?

Who controls the GPS?

About here it starts getting nonsensical, as in "clearly the person that posted this can't communicate exactly what he/she means or has no idea how GPS works."

Re:Well yeah (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888828)

You can make a choice not to use a smart phone (or a cell phone, period) if you'd prefer.

Not easily--you need one for many jobs and they increase efficiency of communication and commerce.

Re:Well yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888606)

We have a term for people who think an unlocked door is an invitation to steal. We call them sociopaths.

Re:Well yeah (1)

elewton (1743958) | more than 2 years ago | (#36889120)

And, just as it is reasonable to expect that sociopaths will spy on you for their own advantage, it is reasonable to expect that sociopaths will steal your stuff if you make it easy.

A predictable percentage of humans qualify for ASPD or whatever they're calling it these days. Anybody trusting a significant number of humans should take appropriate precautions.

Re:Well yeah (1)

Roachie (2180772) | more than 2 years ago | (#36889040)

Yea, when they 'forget to mention' that it can track you to a sufficient degree of accuracy that you can be target by the Orbital Individual Lazer Dessication System ( OILDS ) You know about that right? Oh, did we forget to mention that as well? Well see, its part of the Global Coordination and Reconnaissance System( GCRS ) by which all human activity will be monitored and managed by a vast network of interconnected billionaires.

See thats how they get you to let them stick it in... first its 'just the tip'. Oh, that? That's just a little thingie that communicate with the cell tower so that it can adjust its transmit power, its save your battery power! Then it comes out with a camera( of all things ). Then an app so you can catalog all your friends and family when your bored. Did we mention that the microphone is always on and we can listen anytime we want?

See we always thought that fascism/socialism would come with with jackbooted thugs and German shepherds. It dosent, it comes with Angry Birds.

Follow Me (1)

glorybe (946151) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888406)

I could care less if the government tracks me night and day. They might die of boredom. I avoid doing anything illegal and that pretty much covers it. They could film me night and day and there would be very little of interest at all. If a cop would get excited by studying you you already have a problem.

Re:Follow Me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888758)

I watch you seep. I like that.

Re:Follow Me (1)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888784)

I avoid doing anything illegal

There are so many laws in the states these days, it's impossible to know for certain you haven't done anything illegal. If someone watches you for long enough, they WILL find something to nail your ass to the ground for.

Does anyone really think this isn't going on? (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888410)

Ever since ECHELON chatter started 10-12 years ago, does anyone really think that the UK–USA Security Agreement nations hasn't been doing this?

The problem is that it'd be hard to track everyone at once, even with super computers and satellites like LACROSSE there are just too many people to track, so they can probably actively track a few thousand to a million people.

If they want to look up where anyone else is, they can hit phone location, email IP, social media logs, international and domestic flight, rail and mass transit tickets and easy passes.

Example - yesterday I traveled from Portland to Tacoma via Amtrak with a ticket (that would be in a database), I flew from Seatac to Anchorage and used a Passport for ID which was scanned. It would be trivial for NSA to know when I traveled, where I am and even what time my card paid for parking here in Alaska.

Re:Does anyone really think this isn't going on? (4, Insightful)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888772)

The problem is that it'd be hard to track everyone at once, even with super computers and satellites like LACROSSE there are just too many people to track, so they can probably actively track a few thousand to a million people.

So what happens when the technology advances to the point where it is no more difficult to track the entire population of the U.S.? It's a logical fallacy to claim it's no big deal just because it's impractical given current technology. Technology will catch up, but if you wait until it does to object, it will be too late.

Re:Does anyone really think this isn't going on? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888842)

I never said its "no big deal", I'm shocked that people think this is news, of course they are doing it, they've been doing it for at least 10-15 years.

Stuff like the make me so mad I could just... (1)

Roachie (2180772) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888652)

sit down and write a very terse letter to my congress-person expressing my disappointment.

Re:Stuff like the make me so mad I could just... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888806)

Agreed! Terse: because it's much easier to crank out that letter during a commercial break if I'm terse. In fact, I think I'll just do it after I finish watching my programs for the night...

I am old enough to know.... (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888776)

This shit never ends....

My regret, I'll be dead before spaces is opened up.

Another attempt another place to get it right.

Hmm. Complicated. (1)

StickyWidget (741415) | more than 2 years ago | (#36888814)

Probably cross-border listening stations intercepting calls from US numbers, that just happen to be within the US at the time. Whoops.

The only complicated part of this is the 'find some jackass to give a legal justification'.

~Sticky

You say potato, I say potahto... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36888976)

And any of this matters how? Historically, all of the collective of government spy agencies (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), has made sharing of information opaque. Its not a 'request for information on a form', its a fat pipe 24/7/365 data stream. Now all of these countries have governments that strictly forbid that these agencies do not spy on the country they are in: The NSA does not spy on citizens within the United States, the GCHQ does not spy on citizens within the UK, the CSE does not spy on citizens within Canada, the DSD does not spy on citizens within Australia, and the GCSB does not spy on citizens within New Zealand. There are no laws stopping the NSA from spying on Australia, Canada, UK or New Zealand. There are no laws stopping the CSE from spying on the US, UK or NZ or Australia. There are no laws stopping the GCHQ from spying on Australia, Canada, US or NZ. There are no laws stopping the DSD from spying on US, UK, Canada, or NZ. There are no laws stopping the GCSB from spying on Australia, US, UK or Canada. So if there happens to be information on the big fat data pipe that runs 24/7/365 that happens to be intercepted from 'partner agencies' about people outside of your normal mandate, then you didn't obtain it from within, and you didn't spy on locals, you just received intel from partner agencies about your own backyard. According to agreements, all of the information gathered from partner agencies is fair game.
Sincerely, Anonymous Coward.

Complicated reasoning. (2, Interesting)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36889042)

With a warrant, any cop can do this.

Why is it either a surprise or a scare that the NSA can, with what is bound to be much higher standards for justification (as long as the Republicans aren't in the White House, in which case justification involves merely setting up plausible deniability)?

At most, this is a reminder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36889174)

Even if you look at NSA's intentions in the best possible light, the underlying message is that people who aren't you, have the capability to do this. Now, that's not at all surprising, nor is it "news," when we're talking about cellphone location tracking.

Nevertheless, suppose you believe that individual privacy rights, when there isn't a court order after due process, extend to protecting people's locations. (Whether this is a good position or not, is debatable. On one hand, you may not always be in public when you're trackable; i.e. most people think they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their bedroom. On the other hand, you are voluntarily transmitting over a radio, and the government certainly didn't force you to do that.) If you believe your routine privacy rights extend this far, then it is perfectly reasonable to take countermeasures, and therefore it is best practices for the design of any system to deny this capability to any and all attackers. (Including the government, since an attacked system doesn't know the difference between the government attacker and a common street criminal. Machines are dumb.)

So basically, this is either completely ho-hum not-news, or it's a reminder that our phone system is deeply flawed and insecure. Depending on how far you think privacy rights extend when someone is carring a cellphone.

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