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 found that virtually all of the departments that replied tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 2 hundred agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those stated that they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking 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 people case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a meticulous picture of telephone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of telephones a year primarily based on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on phones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location info is far more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has become so common that cellphone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations 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 probable 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 says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation disagrees that phone companies have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location data. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice.
In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining data about your customers' location history that you should 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 isn't 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 telephone information. The act, known as 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, but not for historic location information."
"I assume the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search