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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 almost all of the departments that answered tracked cellphones, most without warrants. 

The vast majority of the two hundred agencies that answered engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track phones to research crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use cellphone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint an in-depth picture of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones every year primarily based on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing enquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause. 

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

Additionally, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that cellphone firms have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they charge for access to info and what's needed for police to access it. 

However , 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 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 likely cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well." 


The civil liberties organization disagrees that mobile phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 2 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 information about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their information is used. 

The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking telephone information. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of committee. 

"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 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, although not for historical location information." 

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

 

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