Bob Barr: ‘Big Brother wants to track cell phones’

By Bob Barr
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Americans own nearly 300 million cell phones. These ubiquitous electronic devices are used billions of times every day to make phone calls, place orders, locate destinations, pay bills, text messages, read emails, and browse the web. In a single generation, phone books, road maps, and pay phones have been rendered virtually extinct.

Recognizing the treasure trove of information that can be revealed by or retrieved from these devices, the federal government now wants to use our cell phones and other personal communication devices for something quite different from the purposes for which we purchase and employ these now-essential tools.

In arguments earlier this month before a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, lawyers for President Barack Obama made the case that the government should be able to easily track the location of cell phone users without first securing a warrant. In making this argument, the Obama Administration mimics the position taken by its predecessor.

The government’s reasoning rests largely on two pillars — one legal, the other practical — but both of which ought to be rejected by the court.

Bad guys use cell phones to communicate with each other to arrange drug deals, rob banks, and commit all manner of other crimes. The government wants to know where these lawbreakers are — or where they have been — and one of the easiest ways to do that is to be able to track the places where they used their cell phones. While we all want the police to apprehend those who would do us harm; there is more to the equation than simply making that often difficult task as easy as possible.

The government also relies on the legal fiction that simply by using a cell phone, a person “consents” to a third party (their telecommunications carrier) having information from which their location can be determined. The government then argues that the users have no “expectation of privacy” such as might entitle them to have the government obtain a warrant from a judge before it can access records of where the individuals have used, or are using, their cell phones.

Ask any group of American citizens if they consider that simply by using cell phones they are consenting to let Uncle Sam track their every movement, and the resounding “NO” would be heard from Atlanta to Capitol Hill. Fortunately, the federal magistrate who issued the order which the administration is appealing in Philadelphia agreed with that common sense view. The magistrate’s ruling against the government also happens to be in accord with the clear intention of our Founding Fathers, who crafted the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution. That all-important provision protects each of us against any unreasonable search or seizure, and requires that in most instances the government first obtain a warrant based on probable cause.

These protections against the privacy-invasive position being staked out by the Department of Justice, would be rendered largely devoid of meaning if, by simply using an electronic device to communicate privately, the user opens himself to surreptitious tracking of his whereabouts by government agents.

As noted by at least one of the appellate judges before whom the government lawyer argued, permitting the government to easily and without restraint track the location of cell phone users, would reveal far more than the geographic coordinates from which a call was placed. It might reveal the person was at an anti-government protest, or was attending a political or religious event hoping to be free from government snooping. The person might even have been visiting a paramour with the intent not to reveal that fact to prying electronic eyes.

Uncle Sam should not be privy to such information without a darn good reason – even if this make its job of catching criminals slightly less easy.

8 thoughts on “Bob Barr: ‘Big Brother wants to track cell phones’

  1. Mike Seebeck, via cell phone

    The technology already exists with GPS transmitters already in cell phones, and that’s how they are able to track people in certain cases–the Scott Peterson murder case in nothern CA comes to mind. In that case they got a warrant.

    It does have its purposes, but tracking for the sake of tracking without a warrant or a crime being committed is just wrong.

    Credit to Barr for a well-written piece.

  2. Barr Is More Libertarian Than Root

    Barr addresses civil liberties.

    Root dare not say anything that might be seen as soft on the “war on terror” (that is so beloved by Neocons).

  3. Nate

    I agree, kudos to Barr. I especially like the tying of Obama to Bush practices: make it clear that there are more than two sides of the coin, repeatedly.

    What I don’t like (although it’s only a slight problem in this case), is the following paragraph:

    “Bad guys use cell phones to communicate with each other to arrange drug deals, rob banks, and commit all manner of other crimes. […] While we all want the police to apprehend those who would do us harm; there is more to the equation than simply making that often difficult task as easy as possible.”

    Drug deals, provided it is a free exchange of money for goods without any form of force, do not do us any harm.

    Otherwise, great article.

  4. Jake Witmer

    Barr opposes jury nullification of law (in his blog here: and at the Denver Convention, when personally questioned by FIJA Activist Roger Roots, Barr replied to Roots with his own question: “You Support [the right of] Jury Nullification in Murder Trials?” indicating that he clearly did not understand the issue.)

    Wayne Root supports jury nullification of law, and sees it as an answer to our current tyrannical drug war, and war on gun owners.

    Therefore, Wayne Root is an actual libertarian, and Bob Barr is a “Libertarian” politician who is good on some issues, but without favoring political decentralization of power.

    Moreover, Barr’s ballot access team (Shane Cory, Russell Verney) was 100% ignorant, venal, and corrupt. They put all their effort into trying to smear my reputation, and zero effort into ballot access. I still have no idea why, because it was literally crazy. Their actions made no sense. They purposely prevented me from hiring enough people to complete the ballot access drive in WV, then fired me (the one libertarian petitioner in the state) and told me to leave the state, while continuing to gather signatures (using non-libertarian mercenary petitioners) past the legal deadline! Cory’s plan was apparently to hire locals, and train them to be petitioners –with 19 days total to gather 25,000 signatures. Then, they blamed the ballot access failure on me (one petitioner who was prevented from bringing in enough people to finish the job!), and wasted still more money paying lawyers to challenge the legal deadline that was easily met by the Green Party and the Constitution Party (so it therefore had zero chance of success). Then, Verney tried to stick me with rental car fees that they had agreed to pay when bringing me into WV. Can someone tell me how this guy’s failures are not counted against him? The only thing I can think of is: the general public doesn’t know who’s being threatened behind closed doors.

    Which brings me to my “paranoid conspiracy theory”:
    Barr never left the employ of the CIA. He is likely a CIA plant. (Before you laugh, you might want to watch Jesse Ventura reveal that when he was governor the CIA let him know that all governors are debriefed that the CIA is permanently-implanted in all State governments: ) That Barr was smart enough to know how to “speak libertarian” on a few issues did and does not make him a libertarian. In fact, he’s likely the worst enemy the LP ever had.

    Moreover, I agree in spirit with Simon Wiesenthal, the famous nazi hunter: “We should not let nazis govern us.” (He famously said this with reference to Kurt Waldheim.) I would amend that to a more libertarian version that states: “We should not let statists represent us in our attempts at governance.” This only sends the message to the world that: “The best guy the libertarians could find to represent them is not a libertarian, but a statist. We’re better off trying to infiltrate the Republicans with a Ron Paul style Republican.”

    Barr is responsible for more heartbreak, isolation, and ruination of innocent lives than the thousands of “mala prohibita” criminals he helped put in our prison system. In fact, his crimes against the citizens of the USA damaged more lives than most gangland killers do. Objectively, he should possibly be forgiven for his crimes –of advocating cruel and unusual punishments for drug offenders, of interfering with gay marriage– but he should not govern us. Therefore, he should not run for office for us, as our “standard bearer” or for any office for which we already have a viable candidate.

    Perhaps, as a contrite messenger, he should speak our message. …But he isn’t exactly a contrite and libertarian messenger, either:

    On the other hand, Wayne Root supports ending the entire drug war, and CERTAINLY foreign intervention on behalf of it! Root writes in several places in his book that he favors ending invasions of people’s personal liberty in the war on drugs (or the war on drugs’ extensions, the war on gun owners and property owners of all kinds).

    Moreover, Root has not had a legislative history of voting for and enacting government tyranny.

    We’re not the tyranny party. We’re the Libertarian Party. There are many reasons to view Barr as an infiltrator, usurper, and traitor. There are very few such reasons to suspect Root as such. Root lost to Barr in Denver, and –as a second best strategy– he ran as VP for the party he has thrown his weight behind. Since then, Root has done an excellent job defending individual liberty in the media, …even when pressured to contradict himself by tyrants like Hannity.

    Was Root’s Republican background clueless? Mostly. …As are the backgrounds of most people who did not start off in some kind of cloistered intellectual environment. John Stossel was a Democrat, as was I, prior to becoming a libertarian. The person I was when I was a Democrat was very self-contradicting, just like the person Root was when he was a Republican.

    Do some of those contradictions remain with Root? I think so. Luckily, they are very minor, and insignificant political contradictions, not fundamental philosophical issue-based contradictions. He still claims Reagan as his hero, without seeming to realize that most black people (the majority of any demographic is uninformed, I am speaking only of demographics) see this and think (rightly or wrongly): “Ah, libertarians are just one more flavor of right-wingers who think blacks should all be in jail”.

    But at least Root admits that Reagan fell short of his promise by contradicting his message. He acknowledges that Reagan the reality fell grossly short of Reagan the promise for limited government.

    So do we take Root at his word? I think we should. I don’t like the fact that he focuses on reaching out primarily to the right. I think that’s a mistake caused by a lack of understanding of the left’s libertarian tendencies. …But his positives outweigh those negatives for me.
    1) He opposes the drug war
    2) He opposes the war on gun owners
    3) He opposes the IRS
    4) He opposes foreign intervention, and foreign aid
    5) He supports jury nullification of law (even though he doesn’t seem to know how to bring it up in his public commentary as a tool for decentralizing power to the people)
    6) He knows how to run a business
    7) He keeps his word
    8) I can’t imagine that he would fail at simple structural tasks like ballot access. (Then again, I couldn’t imagine that Redpath would delegate tasks he was 100% capable of to an ignoramus like Sean Haugh, so I was wrong once.)

    In all though, Root represents a professional person who can be reasoned with. He also has a set of balls, which is very important. This means that when he hires an employee that needs to be terminated for gross misconduct, or censured for horribly misrepresenting the LP, he will likely be up to the task.

    If Barr was really sorry for the misery he caused as a legislator, he could have helped use his functional knowledge of politics to do more than infiltrate the Denver convention with people who couldn’t spell the word “libertarian” when there was already a strong candidate running for President. He could have gotten libertarians elected as Libertarians to local office in Georgia before trying to helm the ship.

    Most egregiously, he could have sent contributions to his PAC to Libertarians, not the Republicans running against them!

    Former LP Political Director (when the title meant something) Ron Crickenberger attacked Barr with good reason: Barr the legislator was guilty of treason for his opposition to property rights. Someone guilty of statist treason, and full support for legislative tyranny should not represent the LP until they clearly have had a change of heart. Barr’s “change of heart” never came. He remained a drug warrior and a prosecutor whose voltage was clearly on the side of tyranny to the bitter end of the 2008 race.

    And dirty-as-gutterslime Russell Verney? Should he ever mismanage another presidential campaign, after what he did to Perot (’92) and Barr (’08)? No! If Barr wasn’t a CIA goon, then Verney probably was. The only reason I say this is that you don’t get a campaign that bad without trying, and “…when there’s any doubt, there is no doubt.”

    The statements in Root’s book make him a credible defender of freedom, if not a philosopher (as Harry Browne was). Now, some will argue, only a philosopher can resist the pressures that come with elected political office, and they might be right. But we don’t have someone who is a philosopher, organizationally-inclined “relentless” businessman, and a great public messenger this time around.

    I’ll settle for the latter two, and be happy his message is 95% libertarian (and yes, the “State’s Rights stuff disappoints me, too”). Philosophy classes can come later, when Root is helping us write a new Constitution to make up for the gross failings of the current US Constitution. ( See: )

    And on that note of heresy to the Constitution Party members among us, I’ll sign off.

  5. Root's Fine Print

    [Root] opposes opposes foreign intervention, and foreign aid

    Despite your pro-Root talking points, why is it that one must always dig through Root’s book, or website, to find a few favorable stray sentences on foreign aid or civil liberties?

    Whereas there’s no question that Root wants less taxes and that he hates Obama, since he’s always loud and incessant on those issues in all his media appearances.

    That Root needs minions to dig through his writings to find an occasional buried statement on foreign affairs shows that Root doesn’t really support those issues. If he did, he hammer it on Fox News like he does his economic issues.

    Furthermore, for every non-interventionist statement by Root, one can find other pro-interventionist statements. Root is all over the map on foreign affairs and civil liberties, depending on who his audience was at the time.

  6. Why Is Root Low-Key on Foreign Affairs?

    Root is all over the media, spouting his views.

    That Root’s supporters feel the need to explain that Root opposes foreign aid and foreign intervention proves that Root is, at heart, an interventionist.

    Think about it. Root is all over the media. No one doubts Root’s views on taxes and Obama, because Root has a loud megaphone, and he uses his megaphone to tell people about his views on taxes and Obama.

    Root could as easily make clear that he’s anti-foreign intervention, and anti-foreign aid (including to that political “third rail,” Israel), but he doesn’t.

    Despite Root’s loud, daily megaphone, his supporters must constantly explain to potential LP delegates what Root’s (supposed) “real” views on these issues are.

    If Root is really antiwar and anti-foreign aid, why isn’t Root daily saying so on Fox News, Mike Savage, Newsmax, et al?

  7. Nate


    you write: “Barr replied to Roots with his own question: “You Support [the right of] Jury Nullification in Murder Trials?” indicating that he clearly did not understand the issue.)”

    Or perhaps indicating that he indeed did.

    From the Cato article :

    “Although opponents of jury nullification often point to the civil rights era when some all-white juries refused to convict whites accused of brutalizing and killing blacks, Conrad notes that jury nullification was also used to protect people who were prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act in the years before the Civil War. Jurors routinely refused to convict people who were helping slaves attain their freedom.”

    “Conrad argues that the nullification power has sometimes been abused, as has all power. The abuses have been exaggerated to discredit the nullification idea itself.”

    I think asking if someone believes a jury has (or should have) the right to acquit a murderer shows a very clear understanding of the issue.

    But believe me, I’m all for jumping on the bandwagon rants against both Barr and Root. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *