Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that virtually all the departments that answered tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the two hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to investigate crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color an in-depth image of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of phones per year primarily based on invoices from phone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continual enquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location info is far more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has become so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the firms store, how much they charge for access to info and what's required for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and likely 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 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 liberties organization argues that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months 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 retaining information about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their information 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 obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone information. The act, known as 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 lots of our 4th Modification rights," claimed 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, but not for historical location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search