In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued public documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and revealed that nearly all of the departments that replied tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 2 hundred agencies that answered engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of phones a year based on invoices from phone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historic tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continual enquiry, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location info on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is far more precise than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Similarly, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has gotten so common that cellphone corporations have manuals that explain to police what data the corporations store, how much they require payment for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking mobile phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search 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 possible cause requirements, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organization disagrees that phone corporations have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location info. For example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as many as two years and ATT maintains records from July 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a public letter to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop routinely maintaining information about your customers' location history that you happen to collect as a side-product of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give purchasers more control of how their information is utilized.
The ACLU is not alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking telephone information. The act, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance ( GPS ) Act, has bipartisan support but has not yet moved out of board.
"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out many of our 4th Amendment 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 obligation for real-time tracking, though not for historical location information."
"I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The USA don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search