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 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 mobile phone tracking. Only a few those said they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track phones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to paint a meticulous image of telephone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of cellphones a year based on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continual enquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location info is even more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU points out that cellphone tracking has become so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what information the firms store, how much they require payment for access to data and what's required for police to access it.
Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and likely 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 claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation argues that mobile phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For example, Run keeps tracking records for as much as two years 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 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 disclose how information is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their information is utilized.
The ACLU isn't alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking mobile phone info. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of council.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out lots of our 4th 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 need for real-time tracking, but not for historical location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search