Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that nearly all of the departments that responded tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that replied engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of telephones every year primarily based on invoices from telephone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location info is far more accurate than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has gotten so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they charge for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that mobile phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice.
In a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically keeping 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 info is employed.
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 mobile phone data. 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 Change 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 requirement for real-time tracking, although not for historic location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The USA do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search