Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that nearly all the departments that responded tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the two hundred agencies that replied engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of telephones every year based primarily 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, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location information is far more accurate than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they bill for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
But 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 search for a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization disagrees that mobile phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For example, Run keeps tracking records for as many as 2 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 keeping information 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 customers 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 obtain a warrant before tracking mobile phone data. The act, known as 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 plenty of our Fourth Amendment 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 need for realtime tracking, but not for historic location information."
"I believe the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in America do not work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search