Big Brother at the Movies: Can They Really Do That?

"Do they have the capacity to turn on your microphone?" he asked. "They absolutely do have that capacity. We have seen it used in a couple of law enforcement cases, particularly drug and mafia cases."

Law enforcement should be able to use the tools available to it, Bankston said, but that in situations where individuals have an expectation of privacy, authorities should have to go to court to demonstrate probable cause that there has been a crime or will be a crime and that what they will find will be evidence.

"Should the government be able to wiretap people?" he asked. "Sure, I have no problem with that. The problem is: What's the standard? Where are the checks and balances?"

'The Departed'

In this 2006 film directed by Martin Scorcese, Massachusetts authorities and the Irish mafia try to infiltrate each other with undercover moles. In one scene, police attempt to track the mobsters through their cell phones.

Communicating location via cell phone is now a common practice, especially with the wide range of geo-social services that let friends and family keep tabs on each other.

But the legality of government tracking is an under-explored area, Ozer said.

"Under what standard can the government track your cell phone is currently a very disputed topic in the courts, both in terms of tracking your phone in real time ... or accessing stored records," she said.

Given how quickly location-based services are growing, she said, it's important for the law to ramp up to the level of the technology.

"Information about who we are and where we go can be really sensitive information, and the standards for accessing that information is really important and not something that's being properly considered," she said.

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