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 found that virtually all the departments that replied tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 2 hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of phones per year based primarily on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location information is even more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has become so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the firms store, how much they require payment 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 cellphones. 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 likely cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation 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 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining info about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give customers 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 would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking mobile phone data. 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 4th Modification 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 real-time tracking, though not for historical location information."
"I assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search