Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights.The Justice Department is appealing these rulings and some have been overturned, but I can't help but thinking that this movement is an important sign for the future. More and more people, from Tea Party activists to Federal judges, are becoming nervous about government spying and demanding limits. If we keep up the pressure, eventually the arc will bend back toward freedom.
This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges — the worker bees of the federal court system — has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence.
Among the most aggressive opinions have come from D.C. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, a bow-tied court veteran who in recent months has blocked wide-ranging access to the Facebook page of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis and the iPhone of the Georgetown University student accused of making ricin in his dorm room. In another case, he deemed a law enforcement request for the entire contents of an e-mail account “repugnant” to the U.S. Constitution.
For these and other cases, Facciola has demanded more focused searches and insisted that authorities delete collected data that prove unrelated to a current investigation rather than keep them on file for unspecified future use. He also has taken the unusual step, for a magistrate judge, of issuing a series of formal, written opinions that detail his concerns, even about previously secret government investigations.
“For the sixth time,” Facciola wrote testily, using italics in a ruling this month, “this Court must be clear: if the government seizes data it knows is outside the scope of the warrant, it must either destroy the data or return it. It cannot simply keep it.”
Friday, April 25, 2014
The Magistrates' Revolt
Fascinating article in the Post about a movement to protect civil liberties by federal magistrates: