Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In August 2011 the ACLU issued public documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that virtually all of the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies asserted they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a detailed picture of cellphone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of cellphones every year based primarily on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing enquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location information on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is rather more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the firms store, how much they charge for access to data and what's needed for police to access it.
However , some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and likely cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause wants, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organisation disagrees that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For instance, Run keeps tracking records for as much as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily retaining 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 over how their info is used.
The ACLU is not alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone information. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but hasn't yet moved out of committee.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th Amendment rights," related 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 need for real-time tracking, although not for historical location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search