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 revealed that nearly all the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the two hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a detailed image of phone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of cellphones per year based on invoices from telephone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location data is rather more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking is becoming so common that phone firms have manuals that explain to police what information the corporations 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 likely cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that mobile phone corporations have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location data. As an example, Run keeps tracking records for as many as two years 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 routinely keeping information about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how info is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their info is employed.
The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking cellphone information. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of board.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty 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, although not for historic location information."
"I believe the American public merits and expects a degree of private privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search