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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 Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that almost all the departments that responded tracked telephones, most without warrants. 

The vast majority of the two hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to analyze crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies asserted they never use cellphone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color an in-depth picture of phone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones every year primarily based on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historic tracking data where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing enquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause. 

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

Additionally, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has become so common that phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what information the corporations store, how much they charge for access to info and what's needed for police to access it. 

However , some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable 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 says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause needs, then certainly other agencies can as well." 


The civil liberties organization disagrees that cellphone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location info. For example, Run keeps tracking records for as many as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically maintaining data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how information is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their information is utilized. 

The ACLU isn't 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 mobile phone data. The act, known as 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 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 requirement for realtime tracking, although not for historic location information." 

"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a hypothesis of guilt." 
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search

 

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