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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 found that nearly all of the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants. 

The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks 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. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones a year primarily based on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is far more accurate than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU. 

Additionally, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking has gotten so common that mobile phone firms have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations store, how much they bill for access to data and what's needed for police to access it. 

Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause. 

The ACLU announces 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 liberties organisation argues that cellphone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 2 years 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 maintaining information about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how information is being kept and give customers 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 would require law enforcement agencies to get 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 council. 

"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our Fourth Amendment 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 historic location information." 

"I assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The United States do not work on a presumption of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 


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