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Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"
Rob Houglum. We the People Monday, April 23, 2012

warrant-less search

In August 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that nearly all the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants. 

The majority of the 200 agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies stated that they track telephones to research crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use mobile phone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous picture of telephone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks masses of cellphones every year primarily based on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continual investigation, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location data on phones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location data is even more accurate than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU. 

Furthermore, the ACLU notes that cellphone tracking has become so common that cellphone firms have manuals that explain to police what information the companies store, how much they charge for access to info and what's required for police to access it. 

Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and likely cause. 

The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well." 


The civil liberties organisation disagrees that phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. For instance, Run keeps tracking records for as many as two 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 info about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give shoppers more control of 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 get a warrant before tracking mobile phone data. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but hasn't yet moved out of board. 

"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out plenty of our 4th Change 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 need for real-time tracking, although not for historic location information." 

"I assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a presumption of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 

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