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 revealed that nearly all the departments that replied tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that replied engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a few those claimed they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track phones to investigate crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of telephones per year based primarily on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, a 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 information is rather more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking is becoming so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they require payment for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless 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 likely cause.
The ACLU says 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 organisation disagrees that mobile phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 2 years 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 happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how information is being kept and give customers 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 will require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone information. The act, called 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 Change rights," claimed 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 need for real time tracking, although not for historic location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The United States do not work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search