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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 nearly all the departments that answered tracked telephones, most without warrants. 

The majority of the 200 agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use mobile phone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a detailed picture of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones every year primarily based on invoices from telephone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location data on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is rather more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU. 

Furthermore, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has become so common that phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what information the companies store, how much they bill for access to info and what's needed for police to access it. 

However , 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 search for a warrant and possible cause. 

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


The civil liberties organization 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 two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice. 

In a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining information about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how info is being kept and give shoppers more control of how their information is employed. 

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 data. 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 Change rights," said 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 private privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a hypothesis of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 


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