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 discovered that nearly all of the departments that answered tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the two hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those said they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies said they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a detailed picture of cellphone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of cellphones per year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking data 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 data is far more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has gotten so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what information the corporations store, how much they bill for access to information and what's required for police to access it.
Nonetheless 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 search for a warrant and possible cause.
The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that 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 an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily maintaining information about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a side-product of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give shoppers more control of how their information is used.
The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone information. The act, known as 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 lots of our Fourth 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 real time tracking, but not for historic location information."
"I believe the American public merits and expects a degree of private privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search