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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 Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that nearly all of the departments that answered tracked telephones, most without warrants. 

The great majority of the 200 agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to investigate 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 paperwork to paint a detailed picture of telephone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic 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, obtain GPS location information on phones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is even more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU. 

Similarly, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking has gotten so common that phone firms have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they charge for access to information and what's needed for police to access it. 

However , 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 seek a warrant and probable cause. 

The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well." 

The civil liberties organisation argues that phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For instance, Run keeps tracking records for as many as two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice. 

In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically keeping data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their info is utilized. 

The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking mobile phone info. The act, known as 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 plenty of our Fourth Modification 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 need for realtime tracking, although not for historic location information." 

"I assume the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a presumption of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search


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