Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In August 2011 the ACLU issued public documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that virtually all the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the two hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies asserted they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a detailed picture of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of phones a year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is even more accurate than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU points out that cellphone tracking has become so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what info the firms store, how much they require payment for access to info and what's required 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 likely 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 organization argues that cellphone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily retaining information about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give customers more control over how their information is used.
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 cellphone data. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of board.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our Fourth Amendment 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 believe the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search