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 almost all the departments that answered tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the 200 agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to investigate crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a detailed picture of phone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of cellphones a year based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing enquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on phones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location info is even more accurate than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what info the firms store, how much they require payment 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 seek 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 surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization argues that cellphone corporations have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location information. For instance, Run keeps tracking records for as much as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily keeping data about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their info is used.
The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will need law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone data. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of committee.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out lots of our 4th Amendment rights," said 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 realtime tracking, but not for historic 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