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 documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that virtually all of the departments that responded tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that 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 investigate crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a detailed image of telephone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones a year based on invoices from phone corporations. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual investigation, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on phones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is even more precise than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU notes that cellphone tracking has become so common that mobile phone companies have manuals that explain to police what information the companies store, how much they charge for access to information and what's required for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and likely cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for a warrant and possible cause.
The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause wants, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organisation disagrees that phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 24 months 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 customarily keeping info about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a side-effect of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how info is being kept and give shoppers 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 need law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking cellphone data. The act, known as the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but hasn't yet moved out of council.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our Fourth Modification rights," related 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 obligation for real time tracking, although not for historic location information."
"I assume the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in America do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search