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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 official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that virtually all the departments that replied tracked cellphones, most without warrants. 

The great majority of the 200 agencies that replied engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those stated that they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies asserted they never use cellphone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a meticulous picture of telephone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of telephones per year primarily based 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, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location data is far more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU. 

Additionally, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking has become so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations store, how much they charge 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 phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for a warrant and likely cause. 

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


The civil freedoms organization argues that phone firms have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location info. For 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 retaining 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 public how info is being kept and give shoppers more control over 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 info. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of committee. 

"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th Modification rights," said 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 need for real-time tracking, although not for historic location information." 

"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a presumption of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 

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