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Many Police Departments Engage in Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking 85

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 bonch ( 38532 ) * on Monday April 02, 2012 @04:41PM (#39553143)

    I'm curious to know what exactly is being tracked. The summary makes you think that everything is being tracked, like conversations and text messages, but it's actually just location that's being tracked. Companies already track such data for service quality--for example, the iPhone tracks cell phone towers to determine strongest signal areas, which ultimately means it ends up with a history of phone locations. Most smartphones do this. That said, for the government to be able to track private property without permission for purposes of investigation is different, and there should be protection against such invasive surveillance. Unfortunately, I don't think much progress will be made in that regard as long as Obama is in office--he's demonstrated that he's more than happy to embrace warrantless surveillance of all kinds.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:02PM (#39553351)

    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?

    They can only provide that information if it is not solicited, otherwise it is inadmissible as evidence. So when the police decide to monitor someone's cell phone without a warrant, they are giving that evidence up -- it can't be used. But if in the course of listening to that cell phone they discover an opportunity to observe someone engaged in illegal activity, then the police can simply "happen" to be sitting in a van next door when the crime takes place. Of course, with the Patriot Act et al and our new conservative supreme court, that evidence can sometimes be given post facto approval and then used against a person.

    But.. that's how it used to work; So long as the police only presented a chain of evidence based on observations and reasonable cause for any evidence obtained, it was okay; There might have been more evidence, but it couldn't be used or presented... That is how the system ensured justice. So it has always been okay to bend the rules -- but only recently has it been okay to not have any.

  • My teenage daughter suffers from a severe emotional disorder [] and when in a bad emotional state is often a danger to herself and others, so when she beat up my wife, locked her in the basement, stole the car and ran away, I asked the local PD to track her phone. They said they could only do it with a court order and that would take 24 hours -- way too long. Even when I pointed out that the phone was actually mine -- I bought it and I pay the bill -- they still said they couldn't.

    In general, I heartily aprove of requiring court approval for such things, but it seems like in a case where it might literally be the difference between life and death for a young woman with a record of suicide attempts and who has committed serious crimes (assault, unlawful imprisonment, grand theft auto, driving without a license) and where the owner of the phone not only approved but requested that it be tracked, they should do it. I also asked the wireless carrier (Verizon) and they said they would only do it if the police requested.

    (The outcome of the story was that I had a pretty good guess about where she was headed and I found her within a few hours, about 60 miles from home. The police then caught her and took her to the ER for suicide watch and psychiatric evaluation. I didn't find where she ditched the car until a couple of days later. It required about $2K in repairs. I wish my daughter could be "repaired" so cheaply and effectively.)

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner