Law enforcement track cellphones without warrants. "Warrant-less search"

warrant-less search

In August 2011 the ACLU issued public documentation requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that virtually all the departments that responded tracked cellphones, most without warrants. 

The vast majority of the 2 hundred agencies that replied engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking phones, according to the ACLU report

Most law enforcement agencies claimed they track phones to analyze crimes, while others stated that they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies said they never use mobile phone tracking. 

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough paperwork to color a detailed image of phone tracking activities. For instance, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks loads of phones every year based primarily on invoices from telephone firms. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police get historical tracking information where it's "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation, the standard the ACLU notes is lower than possible cause. 

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, obtain GPS location information on telephones without demonstrating possible cause. GPS location data is even more definite than cell tower location info, according to the ACLU. 

Furthermore, the ACLU points out that telephone tracking has gotten so common that cellphone corporations have manuals that explain to police what info the firms store, how much they require payment 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 cellphones. Police in the County of Hawaii, Hawaii, Wichita, Kansas and Lexington, Kentucky, do search for a warrant and likely cause. 

The ACLU announces 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 organisation disagrees that mobile phone corporations have made transparency worse by concealing how long they store location information. As an example, Run keeps tracking records for as many as 2 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 routinely maintaining data about your customers' location history that you should happen to collect as a byproduct of how mobile technology works," and asks them to disclose how info is being kept and give shoppers more control over how their information is utilized. 

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 cellphone data. 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 plenty 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 obligation for realtime tracking, but not for historical location information." 

"I think the American public merits and expects a degree of private privacy," announced Chaffetz. "We in The United States do not work on a presumption of guilt." 

Tags: ACLU, GPS, Warrant-less search