Cell phone tracking becomes common practice by law enforcement

Cell phones are wonderful things.  It’s my calendar, my address book, my phone, and Internet.  I can read books, check the weather, play games and stay in contact with all my friends and family.  Last minute plans can be changed and pictures can be shared.  But we also have some dangers and privacy issues associated with cell phones, including the use of tracking tools by law enforcement agencies with little or no protection from this use.

We know that there are some risks associated with using our cell phones like:

The New York Times, using 5,500 pages of law enforcement documents received from an ACLU study on this topic, in this report reveals that the very organizations that are supposed to be keeping us safe, may be gaining information from our cell phones without us even knowing it and with little, if any rules or regulations governing this practice.

We have all seen a television crime drama where the police use an individuals cell phone to track down the killer/rapist/kidnapper/stalker as they read through text messages, access the web pages used on the SmartPhone, contact everyone in the contact book and use GPS tracking.   We have also heard real life, true crime stories were cell phone and their built in GPS systems may even save someone’s life.  Surveillance of cell phones and tracking has even saved some lives, during an attempted or threatened suicide.

Cell phone surveillance used to be something only federal agents and agencies had the tools to do. But now police departments large and small can also have these tools to tap into your talk and text time, and a whole lot more.  A review by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), with responses from over 200 police departments, revealed that cell phone tracking without virtue of a warrant or subpoena, is not unusual, it has actually become a common practice.

“The overwhelming majority of the over 200 law enforcement agencies that provided documents engaged in at least some cellphone tracking — and many track cellphones quite frequently,” the ACLU found. And only 10 agencies said that they have never tracked cellphones. ”

The issues is becoming even more important to address, as the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that using a GPS (Global Positioning Service) on a suspects car violated his 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.  Since cell phone now have GPS, wouldn’t that protection also extend to cell phones?  So far, it doesn’t in most states.

Dan Silverstein, past president of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice called cellphone tracking without a court warrant “a key civil liberty issue and constitutional concern.”  He added “police in North Las Vegas and Las Vegas routinely use cellphone records to track people involved in investigations. It has become almost standard in the cases I see,” Silverstein said. “Sometimes they obtain a warrant; sometimes they don’t.”

Joel R. Reidenberg, founding academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University in New York found it disturbing that such tracking “enables others to learn systematically everywhere I go every time I step out of my door.” This takes activity in public that “may become something that’s private” — a pattern of behavior.

“It’s become run of the mill,” said Catherine Crump, an A.C.L.U. lawyer who coordinated the group’s gathering of police records. “And the advances in technology are rapidly outpacing the state of the law.”

If you worry about your cell phone privacy you can ask Congress to support the GPS Act.

From the ACLU website . . . Sen. Ron Wyden & Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act in the House and Senate to protect location privacy. The bills require law enforcement to get a warrant based on probable cause before accessing location information and also regulate the use of this information by business. With location tracking cases rising up all over the country this would provide a strong and clear national standard for law enforcement



LA Times