Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In August 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 majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color an in-depth picture of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones per year based primarily on invoices from telephone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location data on phones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location information is even more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they require payment for access to information and what's required for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation argues that cellphone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically keeping info 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 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 need law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking mobile phone information. The act, known as 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 lots of our Fourth 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 obligation for real time tracking, but not for historic location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in America do not work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search