In August 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that virtually all the departments that responded tracked mobile phones, most without warrants.
The majority of the 200 agencies that responded engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those said they frequently seek warrants and demonstrate possible cause before tracking mobile phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track telephones to research crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies stated that they never use telephone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a detailed picture of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of phones every year primarily based on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual enquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location information is rather more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking has gotten so common that cellphone firms have manuals that explain to police what info the corporations store, how much they charge for access to information and what's needed for police to access it.
But some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and possible cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do look for a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU says that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause wants, then certainly other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization argues that mobile phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing 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 communication to wireless carriers, the ACLU implores them to "stop typically maintaining info 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 info 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 need law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before tracking telephone information. 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 lots of our Fourth Change 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 requirement for realtime tracking, but not for historical location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The United States do not work on a presumption of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search