Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012
In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that virtually all the departments that responded tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The majority of the two hundred agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those stated that they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to research crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies said they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint an in-depth image of telephone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones a year based on invoices from telephone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location data is far more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking has become so common that phone firms have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they require payment for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless 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 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 possible cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization disagrees that cellphone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically maintaining 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 info is being kept and give shoppers more control of how their information is utilized.
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 telephone information. The act, called 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 lots of our Fourth 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 requirement for real-time tracking, though not for historic 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 presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search