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 records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that almost all of the departments that answered tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the 200 agencies that answered engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those stated that they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to research crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a meticulous image of telephone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of phones per year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing investigation, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on phones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location info is rather more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking is becoming so common that phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations store, how much they require payment for access to data and what's needed 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 seek a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organisation argues that phone firms have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location info. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically maintaining info 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 over 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 hasn't yet moved out of board.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out many of our Fourth Change rights," related Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Another effort is being made 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 believe the American public merits 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