In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and discovered that nearly all the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the two hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a few those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate likely cause before tracking cellphones, 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 people case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use cellphone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color an in-depth image of cellphone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones a year primarily based on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking info where it's "relevant and material" to a continuing inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location info is far more definite than cell tower location information, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has become so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the companies store, how much they bill for access to info and what's needed for police to access it.
Nonetheless some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and likely cause before tracking cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and probable cause.
The ACLU announces that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and possible cause needs, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil freedoms organisation argues that mobile phone firms have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. As an example, Sprint keeps tracking records for as much as 2 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 typically retaining information about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how information is being kept and give shoppers more control of how their info 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 telephone information. The act, called 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 lots of our Fourth Change 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 need for realtime tracking, but not for historic location information."
"I believe the American public deserves and expects a degree of private privacy," said Chaffetz. "We in The United States don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search