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Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012

warrant-less search

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 answered tracked cellphones, most without warrants. 

The great majority of the two hundred agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate possible 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 10 agencies asserted they never use telephone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color an in-depth image of telephone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of telephones per year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location info is even more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU. 

Furthermore, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has gotten so common that mobile phone firms have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations 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 phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for 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 surely other agencies can as well." 


The civil freedoms organisation argues that phone firms have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location information. 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 typically keeping data about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how information is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their info is used. 

The ACLU is not 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 mobile phone information. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but hasn't yet moved out of committee. 

"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th Amendment rights," claimed 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 assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA do not work on a hypothesis of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 

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