In August 2011 the ACLU issued public documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that nearly all the departments that responded tracked telephones, most without warrants.
The majority of the two hundred agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those claimed they constantly 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 said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies said they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a meticulous image of cellphone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of telephones per year primarily based on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing inquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than likely cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. GPS location information is far more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU points out that cellphone tracking has gotten so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they charge for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless 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 announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organisation disagrees that mobile phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. For instance, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as 2 years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Office of Justice.
In an open letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically retaining information 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 information is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their info is utilized.
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 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 many of our 4th Modification rights," said 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, but not for historical location information."
"I assume the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search