In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that nearly all of the departments that replied tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The vast majority of the 2 hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those claimed they constantly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to investigate crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing folks case. Only 10 agencies stated that they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of cellphones per year based primarily on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, 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 data is far more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking has become so common that mobile phone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they require payment for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for 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 surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization argues that cellphone companies have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location data. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 24 months and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Dept of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining data about your customers' location history that you chance to collect as a side-product 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 used.
The ACLU is not 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 cellphone info. 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 4th Change rights," related 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 need for real-time tracking, though not for historic location information."
"I assume the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in The USA do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search