In August 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that almost all the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the 200 agencies that answered engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those stated that they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to research crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing people case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous picture of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones per year primarily based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, a 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 information is rather more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that cellphone tracking has gotten so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what information the firms store, how much they charge for access to information 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 seek a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization argues that cellphone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location data. For instance, Sprint 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 a public communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop customarily keeping data about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make public how info is being kept and give customers 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 will need law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking mobile phone info. 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 many of our Fourth Change rights," claimed 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 realtime tracking, though not for historic location information."
"I believe the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in America do not work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search