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 records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that virtually all of the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 200 agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to research 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 documentation to paint a detailed image of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of phones a year based primarily on invoices from telephone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location data is rather more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking is becoming so common that cellphone firms have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations store, how much they bill for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
However , some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization disagrees that cellphone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months 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 typically maintaining info about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give customers more control over how their information is utilized.
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 information. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but hasn't yet moved out of council.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th Modification rights," related Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Another effort is being manufactured by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act ( ECPA ), which includes "a warrant requirement for real time tracking, but not for historic location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The United States do not work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search