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 revealed 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 cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies said they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of telephones per year based primarily 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 likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on phones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location information is far more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU points out that cellphone tracking has become so common that cellphone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the firms 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 search for a warrant and possible cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization disagrees that mobile phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily retaining info about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a side-effect 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 isn't 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 telephone information. The act, called 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 lots of our 4th Amendment rights," claimed 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 obligation for real time tracking, although not for historic location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search