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Cell phones

Many U.S. police use cell phones to track suspects instead of getting legal warrants

Saturday, April 28, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: cell phones, surveillance, warrants

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(NaturalNews) Privacy continues to come at a premium in the Information Age, as a new study found that police all over the country routinely ignore the Fourth Amendment by tracking cell phones.

In fact, departments are ignoring the Fifth Amendment as well, because much of the tracking takes place without a warrant, according to the results of a survey issued in early April by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The survey found that "many" of about 200 departments surveyed said they tracked cell phones without being permitted to do so by a court. While some departments like Wichita, Kan., and North Las Vegas, get warrants first, others - such as the Kentucky State Police - "said they use varying legal standards, such as a warrant or a less-strict subpoena."

This patchwork approach means there is no national standard, which has translated into a situation where, in several agencies, monitoring takes place without probable cause, the ACLU maintained.

Warrantless electronic tracking

"What we have learned is disturbing. The government should have to get a warrant before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans' privacy, and it is also what is required under the Constitution," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, in a statement.

"The fact that some law enforcement agencies do get warrants shows that a probable cause requirement is a completely reasonable and workable policy, allowing police to protect both public safety and privacy," she said.

The organization's conclusions stem from more than 380 Freedom of Information requests from police departments around the country. Specifically, 35 ACLU chapters asked departments about their policies and procedures for tracking cell phones.

Some agencies did not respond, but of those that did, the group says that, according to surveys, few departments sought warrants, and that they engaged in "unclear or inconsistent legal standards" to justify cell phone tracking.

To fix the problem, the group said it is backing federal legislation supported by members of both parties. A measure called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act "would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to access location information from cell phones or GPS devices," as well as calling for private telecommunications companies to "obtain their customers' consent before collecting location data."

The legislation appears to contrast - or perhaps help clarify - a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January, which held that prolonged electronic tracking of suspects constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, "but the effects of that ruling on law enforcement have yet to be seen," the ACLU said.




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