(Radley Balko) An update on the creeping surveillance state: An alarming report out of Puerto Rico finds that an ankle bracelet given to suspects out on bail or parole may have the ability to listen to and record conversations.
A Corrections Department agent, who works at the Puerto Rico Pretrial Services Office’s monitoring center for defendants free on bail, placed a GPS ankle bracelet on the court podium and made a call from the device to a technician of the SecureAlert company, which provides them at a facility in Sandy, Utah.
The technician, who was addressed through the GPS ankle bracelet–which has a phone feature–testified that, although the device is supposed to vibrate when activated from Utah, the feature could be turned on without warning . . .
. . .the discovery has raised serious questions about whether such technology violates the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship–and the right to privacy–for thousands of individuals under court supervision across the U.S. whose personal private conversations could be heard or recorded without their knowledge and without a court warrant.
Remarkably, it appears that this technology was put into the bracelets on the sly. Defense attorneys and civil liberties advocates who work with criminal suspects and parolees were unaware of the recording/eavesdropping capability.
Victor A. Meléndez-Lugo, Director for the Appeals Division for the Puerto Rico Legal Aid Society, said that he has not heard of any similar case and found the possibility “shocking”.
“The recording or interception of phone calls in Puerto Rico constitutes a crime”, Meléndez-Lugo added. “If that is happening in Puerto Rico it has to stop happening since yesterday.”
Ben Wizner, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU in Washington, D. C. said it was the first time he had heard of such a case, adding that “if it allows eavesdropping or to record conversations, (it) is a very important issue that is worth exploring.”
And of course, if someone is listening in, it’s not just a violation of the rights of the suspect or parolee, but of everyone else who is a party to the conversation.