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Monday, April 02, 2012

Courts - "Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool"

This long story by Eric Lichblau was on the front-page of Sunday's NY Times. It begins:

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.

With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.

But civil liberties advocates say the wider use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. While many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies, others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to 5,500 pages of internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments nationwide.

The internal documents, which were provided to The New York Times, open a window into a cloak-and-dagger practice that police officials are wary about discussing publicly. While cell tracking by local police departments has received some limited public attention in the last few years, the A.C.L.U. documents show that the practice is in much wider use — with far looser safeguards — than officials have previously acknowledged.

The story includes a link to a 189-page training manual for tracking cellphones, apparently part of a California District Attorneys Assoc. CLE course. It also links to this ACLU report, "Cell Phone Location Tracking Public Records Request ," which includes this quote:
The government should have to obtain a warrant based upon probable cause before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans' privacy, and it is also what is required under the Constitution. In United States v. Jones, a majority of the Supreme Court recently concluded that the government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it attaches a GPS device to a car and tracks its movements. The conclusion should be no different when the government tracks people through their cell phones, and in both cases a warrant and probable cause should be required.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 2, 2012 09:35 AM
Posted to Courts in general