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 documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that almost all of the departments that answered 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 claimed they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track telephones to research crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only 10 agencies said they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a detailed image of telephone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of phones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location data on phones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is far more accurate than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU points out that cellphone tracking is becoming so common that mobile phone firms have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they charge for access to data and what's required for police to access it.
Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause needs, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation disagrees that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint 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 an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop routinely retaining data about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how information is being kept and give shoppers 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 need law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking mobile phone info. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of board.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th 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 obligation for realtime tracking, although 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 don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search