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 discovered that nearly all of the departments that responded tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 200 agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to research crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones a year based primarily on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continual 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 info is rather more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has gotten so common that cellphone corporations have manuals that explain to police what info the firms 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 possible cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and possible cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization argues that phone companies have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. As an example, Run 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 customarily keeping info about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a side-product 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 isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will need law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking telephone info. 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 many of our Fourth Change rights," claimed 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 historical location information."
"I believe the American public deserves 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