Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that virtually all of the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the two hundred agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track phones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies said they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a meticulous image of telephone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of telephones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual investigation, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is even more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they require payment for access to data and what's required for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do seek a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily retaining data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a side-product 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 utilized.
The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will need law enforcement agencies to get 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 council.
"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 requirement for real-time tracking, though not for historical location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search