Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that almost all the departments that replied tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the two hundred agencies that answered engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track phones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only ten agencies said they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of cellphones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location info is rather more accurate than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that mobile phone firms have manuals that explain to police what information the firms store, how much they charge for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
However , some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do seek a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization disagrees that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily maintaining data about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a side-product of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how info is being kept and give customers more control of how their information is used.
The ACLU is not alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking cellphone info. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of council.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our Fourth Modification rights," claimed Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Another effort is being made by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act ( ECPA ), which includes "a warrant obligation for realtime tracking, but not for historical location information."
"I assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search