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 answered tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 200 agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies stated that 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 cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color an in-depth picture of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of cellphones per year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location information on phones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is far more accurate than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU notes that telephone tracking has gotten so common that cellphone companies have manuals that explain to police what information the companies store, how much they require payment for access to info and what's required for police to access it.
But 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 search 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 wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that phone corporations have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location info. 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. Office of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop routinely maintaining information about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how information is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their info 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, known as 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 lots of our 4th Amendment rights," related 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 realtime tracking, but not for historical location information."
"I believe the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search