Government Paying Thieves for Phone Data

Police phone data brokersThe Associated Press has uncovered an ethical firestorm waiting to erupt as they discovered that data brokers — many whom had “broken into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and sometimes acknowledged that their practices violate laws” — have large swathes of police and federal agencies as their biggest customers:

Those using data brokers include agencies of the Homeland Security and Justice departments “” including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service “” and municipal police departments in California, Florida, Georgia and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services.
[…] Legal experts said law enforcement agencies would be permitted to use illegally obtained information from private parties without violating the Fourth Amendment as long as police did not encourage crimes to be committed.
“If law enforcement is encouraging people in the private sector to commit a crime in getting these records, that would be problematic,” said Mark Levin, a former top Justice Department official under President Reagan. “If, on the other hand, they are asking data brokers if they have any public information on any given phone numbers, that should be fine.”

Color me unimpressed by this weak legal excuse, as this looks like the police are receiving stolen property. Unfortunately, by using private companies to proxy the risk, there’s no way to verify if big brother has committed that actual crime.