ACLU: Police Use Cellphone Tracking without Warrants

mobile phone masts

mobile phone masts (Photo credit: osde8info)

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones has become a powerful tool for police, with hundreds of departments using it with little or no court oversight.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to find a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts, or provide other services.

The police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders.

Civil liberties advocates say cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. Many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies, but some claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments.

The documents open a window into a cloak-and-dagger practice that police officials are wary about discussing. The A.C.L.U. documents show that the practice is in much wider use than officials have acknowledged.

The issue has taken on new legal urgency in light of a Supreme Court ruling in January finding that a Global Positioning System tracking device placed on a suspect’s car violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. While the ruling did not involve cellphone, it raised questions about the standards for cellphone tracking.

Via The New York Times.

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Filed under Crime and Punishment, National, Technology

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