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Texas leading the nation on mobile phone privacy; cops will need warrants to track your location

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Texas, mobile phones, privacy laws

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(NaturalNews) No state is perfect, but Texans like to think theirs is pretty close, especially when it comes to whose elected officials are more apt to pursue policies and legislation which enhance freedom, liberty and self-reliance.

Privacy advocates and experts say two new pieces of legislation dealing with mobile phone privacy recently introduced in Texas are among the "most sweeping" they've ever seen, adding that "the proposed legislation offers better protection than a related privacy bill introduced this week in Congress," the online publication ARS Technica reported.

If they are approved, the bills would create some of the toughest barriers against potential law enforcement abuse in the country by establishing a well-defined warrant requirement for the retrieval of all location information that is based solely on strict probable-cause standards.

That will apply to GPS data, certainly, but could potentially include pen register, tap and trace and tower location too, say experts. That kind of information would only be provided to law enforcement "if there is probable cause to believe the records disclosing location information will provide evidence in a criminal investigation."

In addition, the measures would require annual transparency reports from mobile carriers to the public and to state officials, the website noted.

Sad that such laws are needed when we have a Constitution

Currently, under federal case law and statute, police agencies generally possess broad, warrantless powers to both track suspects in real time based on phone data and to gain access to records of when and where cell calls or text messages were made, sent or received - all data that is provided by carriers.

"Location information can reveal a great deal about an individual's professional and personal life - her friends and associates, her participation in political or religious activities, her regular visits to a health clinic or support group, and more," Chris Conley, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, told the website.

"That's why we think it is essential that the government get a search warrant, approved by a judge, before demanding this kind of information from cell phone providers. The Texas bill would require just that," he continued. "In addition, the Texas bill would also require companies to report how often they receive such demands from law enforcement and how much information they disclose. This kind of transparency is essential to carry on an informed dialog about appropriate law enforcement powers in the modern world."

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Jones that law enforcement officials did not have the power to track suspects using GPS tracking devices placed on their cars without a warrant. Still, police use similar tactics with lower legal standards, the site reported, including using a suspect's phone number against them.

Other states also considering similar legislation

The Texas bills, introduced in the House and Senate in February, have been endorsed by the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition, an umbrella group that includes other organizations such as Grits for Breakfast, the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin, Texans for Accountable Government, and, of course, the ACLU of Texas. Both bills must pass each chamber, be reconciled if there are differences and then must be signed by Gov. Rick Perry, who for a time, was a 2012 GOP presidential contender.

ARS said none of the four major mobile carriers in the U.S. - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile - commented on the new legislation.

Other civil libertarians are also interested in the passage of the legislation, both in other states and on the federal level; 11 states are also considering similar bills.

"What the states do on this issue will certainly influence what Congress does," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It's clear to me that because the location of a cell phone is mobile and because phones cross state lines routinely it's probably that if the states start acting then Congress would need to enact a uniform rule."





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