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Many Police Departments Engage in Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking 85

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the are-they-watching-you? dept.
alphadogg writes with a distressing bit of analysis of the training materials acquired by the ACLU last week. From the article: "Many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. track mobile phones as part of investigations, but only a minority ask for court-ordered warrants, according to a report released Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union. More than 90 law enforcement agencies said they track mobile phones during investigations, but only six reported receiving court-approved warrants after demonstrating that there's probable cause of a crime, according to an ACLU report based on public information requests filed by the group last year." The ACLU has a handy page allowing you to see if your local PD engages in such practices.
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Many Police Departments Engage in Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

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  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday April 02, 2012 @04:55PM (#39553293) Homepage

    From the report:

    Each provider has a different system for authorizing police use of location information and we comply with whatever that cell phone provider requests.

    How does law enforcement make a request to track a cell phone? Is it a phone call? A web-based system? If cell companies are giving out this information without warrants, hopefully they have some security to prevent someone from impersonating a police officer and tracking someone.

    A limitation of the US Constitution is that it requires the government to get warrants for things, but it does not force civilians to ask for those warrants. So if companies or individuals voluntarily choose to provide this information then there is no need to obtain a warrant. People must make a stand if they really care. But what incentive do corporations have to do this?

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday April 02, 2012 @04:56PM (#39553299)

    They never needed a warrant to "tail" a guy driving round in his car, or "shadow" him walking down the street, so why need one to tail/shadow a cellphone?

    Because I can tail a guy, or "shadow" him walking down the street. Anyone can do those activities in public. Not anyone can eavesdrop on a cell phone which is being used in someone's home, car, etc. Warrants are when the police want to do something an ordinary citizen cannot.

  • by surmak (1238244) on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:00PM (#39553333)

    They never needed a warrant to "tail" a guy driving round in his car, or "shadow" him walking down the street, so why need one to tail/shadow a cellphone? I don't think any of these events is unreasonable.

    The best argument against this is that trailing a person requires resources (the cop), and has an opportunity cost for the police. They are not going to tail someone without a (hopefully good) reason. If, on the other hand, they engage in mass surveillance with minimal cost cost per victim, that eliminates the cost for the police to engage in such behavior.

  • by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .namesron.wt.> on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:01PM (#39553343)

    They never needed a warrant to "tail" a guy driving round in his car, or "shadow" him walking down the street, so why need one to tail/shadow a cellphone? I don't think any of these events is unreasonable.

    I think they are unreasonable; absent reasonable articulable suspicion that someone is committing or is about to commit a crime, then there is no legal justification for any kind of tracking whatsoever.

    Why people seem to think -- or have fallen for -- the absurdity that the constitution outlines the only rights we have and not as a curb on governmental powers is beyond me.

    All together now -- ABSENT REASONABLE ARTICULABLE SUSPICION OR PROBABLE CAUSE, THE GOVERNMENT HAS NO RIGHT TO ACT. It matters not that computers are fast enough to scan a billion license plates per hour, or that certain activities do not carry an expectation of privacy. That's the sugary lie that is used to get us to swallow the ultimate poison of the police state.

  • No surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by macwhizkid (864124) on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:04PM (#39553381)

    When the iPhone "Find My Friends" app came out last year, I was rather surprised by how many people were opposed to it and refused to share information. "I don't want other people to know where I am all the time" was the most common complaint.

    My response at the time was, "do you really think the police/federal government/big telecoms can't already track you?"

    If you're going somewhere you don't want other people to know about, leave your phone at home.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:09PM (#39553441)

    I think they are unreasonable; absent reasonable articulable suspicion that someone is committing or is about to commit a crime, then there is no legal justification for any kind of tracking whatsoever.

    Well, the obvious solution is to make more things illegal.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:15PM (#39553503) Homepage Journal

    Because I can tail a guy, or "shadow" him walking down the street. Anyone can do those activities in public. Not anyone can eavesdrop on a cell phone which is being used in someone's home, car, etc. Warrants are when the police want to do something an ordinary citizen cannot.

    Not exactly; the reason it's illegal is not because "ordinary citizens cannot" track cell phones (especially considering that with deep enough pockets, an 'ordinary citizen' very much can track any cell phone), but rather because a cell phone, being a privately owned, personal communication device, falls under the category of "personal effects" and possibly "papers" (as both are used for communication) and thus is subject to protection under the 4th Amendment.

  • by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .namesron.wt.> on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:29PM (#39553671)

    The best argument against this is that trailing a person requires resources (the cop), and has an opportunity cost for the police. They are not going to tail someone without a (hopefully good) reason. If, on the other hand, they engage in mass surveillance with minimal cost cost per victim, that eliminates the cost for the police to engage in such behavior.

    The point needs to be made that, absent probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion, the police/government has no authority to track anyone. So instead of you and I "hoping" that they can't follow us without a good reason (and thus, by extension, "hoping" that they won't abuse the privilege), they are first required to have a good reason before being allowed to follow us.

  • by miltonw (892065) on Monday April 02, 2012 @06:49PM (#39554601)
    Actually, the police, and the government in general, must have more checks in place than the average citizen -- because the police and the government have so much more power than the average citizen.

    The founders had it right, we citizens must have powerful checks against government/police abuse or we will lose all our freedoms.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein

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