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 found that nearly all of the departments that answered tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 2 hundred agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of phones a year based primarily on invoices from telephone corporations. 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 possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is even more accurate than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking has become so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they charge for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking 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 possible cause needs, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization disagrees that phone companies have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how info is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their information is employed.
The ACLU is not 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 telephone data. 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 many of our Fourth Change 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 realtime tracking, although not for historical location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The USA do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search