Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In August 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that almost all the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that answered engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to research crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones a year primarily based on invoices from telephone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing enquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location data is rather more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking has become so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations 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 possible cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause wants, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organisation argues that mobile phone companies have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location info. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 24 months 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 should happen to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how information is being kept and give purchasers 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 cellphone 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 many of our Fourth Change rights," related 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 assume the American public merits and expects a degree of private privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in America do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search