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 documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that almost all the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track telephones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies asserted they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a detailed picture of telephone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of telephones per year primarily 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 inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location data on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is rather 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 companies store, how much they bill for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do seek a warrant and possible cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. As an example, Run keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop routinely keeping data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give customers more control of how their information is employed.
The ACLU is not alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking mobile phone 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," 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 obligation for realtime tracking, but not for historical 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 hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search