Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith

There has been justifiably a lot of talk over the last few days about U.S. v. Jones, and the privacy issues it raises. Our editor emeritus Kashmir Hill was fortunate enough to hear oral arguments at the Supreme Court in person, alongside top legal reporters such as Jeffrey Toobin and Adam Liptak.

But when it comes to electronically tracking people, Jones is just the tip of the iceberg. Law enforcement also often follow American citizens through their cell phones. The practice has become so widespread that some magistrate judges are reconsidering their willingness to authorize it….

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We’ve been talking a lot recently about the secretly authorized stuff our government does to us — like killing us, or molesting us at airports.

Here’s another one for the list: digging through our emails or Twitter feeds or cell phone data, without probable cause, our permission, or our knowledge. This isn’t necessarily shocking in and of itself; back in April, Kashmir Hill wrote about how often the government requests information about private individuals from tech companies.

What’s shocking is the ease with which the government gets that information and the secrecy with which it does so. Somehow it’s all based on a law that is older than the Internet. The policy recently came to light when authorities ordered a small Internet provider, as well as Twitter and Google, to turn over information about Jacob Appelbaum, an American who volunteers with WikiLeaks.

How does the U.S. government circumvent basic probable cause and search warrant requirements when it wants electronic information? Let’s see….

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