In Aug 2011 the ACLU issued official records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that nearly all the departments that replied tracked cellphones, most without warrants.
The great majority of the 200 agencies that replied engaged in some mobile phone tracking. Only a handful of those claimed they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report.
Most law enforcement agencies said they track telephones to research crimes, while others claimed they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only ten agencies asserted they never use mobile phone tracking.
Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to color a meticulous image of phone tracking activities. As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of telephones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to a continual inquiry, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, get GPS location data on phones without demonstrating likely cause. GPS location information is rather more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU.
Additionally, the ACLU observes that telephone tracking has gotten so common that phone companies have manuals that explain to police what data the firms store, how much they bill for access to data and what's needed for police to access it.
However , some law enforcement agencies do seek warrants and probable cause before tracking phones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for a warrant and likely cause.
The ACLU claims that if "police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and likely cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well."
The civil liberties organization disagrees that cellphone companies have made transparency worse by hiding how long they store location information. As an example, Run 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 customarily retaining info about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a side-product of how mobile technology works," and asks them to make clear how info is being kept and give customers more control of how their information is employed.
The ACLU is not alone in its concern. Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that will need law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking mobile phone info. The act, known as 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 Fourth Amendment rights," said 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 real-time tracking, though not for historic location information."
"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of personal privacy," asserted Chaffetz. "We in America don't work on a hypothesis of guilt."
Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search