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Police tracking millions without warrants.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 9th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a report that reveals the police are secretly tracking the movements of millions of people without warrants or probable cause. The ACLU also says the process occurs without any judicial oversight.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Cellphones are now routinely equipped with GPS. Even older cell phones, which are not GPS equipped can be tracked by the cell tower they use. All phones connect to their nearest cell tower several time per minute and police are constantly accessing this data. 

This feature is available to police, even if users turn their phones off. 

Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney said, "They are casting a huge net, getting very detailed information that scoops up a lot of innocent people. It has been happening since the late 1990s and is not a particularly democratic way of doing things."

The situation seems particularly serious in Arizona. In Tuscon, police have collected cellphone numbers for every phone in a particular area, scooping up innocent people in their searches. And in Gilbert, Arizona, authorities purchased their own cellphone monitoring equipment because they found it cheaper than paying cellular companies for the data.

Few people realize that such technology exists and is available to law enforcement. And virtually nobody knows that their whereabouts are being tracked and recorded without a warrant or any other cause other than to provide police with information that can use in the event a person becomes a suspect. 

Police departments defend the practice and say it is perfectly legal. Defenders of the practice point out that it can help in missing persons cases and it can place suspects at the scene of a crime. It is also true that there are no laws which specifically ban the practice. 

However, the reality does not sit well with people. The fourth amendment of the Constitution forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. That protection includes an individual's whereabouts and movements. 

In January, the US Supreme Court ruled that placing a GPS device on a car without a warrant or the suspect's knowledge, violated the fourth amendment. That decision, known as US vs. Jones could form the basis for cellphone tracking cases. 

That is, if suspects ever know the police used cellphone tracking in their case. Police departments are warning officers not to mention their use of tracking in their reports or to discuss it with the public. Keeping the public as ignorant of the practice as possible allows the police to continue doing it. 

In some cases, people have even been mentioned in high-level federal court cases because their phone had been picked up and tracked by police. At the same time, those people were going about their daily lives entirely unaware that their specific, personal information was the subject of a federal case. 

The situation could be the basis of a Kafka novel. 

Police departments around the world are using cellphone tracking as a routine method for gathering evidence and information. The practice has been in use since the 1990s and there is little doubt that the process can be useful in apprehending suspects and saving lives. The problem is that the net is so widely cast it catches the innocent along with the guilty. But in the American tradition it is said that it is better to let the guilty go free than to condemn the innocent. 

Two US lawmakers have proposed a bill that would ban this practice without a warrant. The Geolocation Prrivacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act has been proposed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). The bill would require officials get a warrant before obtaining geolocation information on an individual. It would also forbid the abuse of GPS tracking by private individuals. 

Crump says the ACLU supports the bill adding, "A lot of Americans don't understand that their own police departments are monitoring their location by cellphone on a routine basis. The law hasn't kept pace with technology and we need more courts to conclude that a warrant based on probable cause is the necessary legal standard." 

Still, in a world where privacy has eroded to the point of nostalgia, it remains to be seen if people will even notice, or care. 

Further reading, Big Brother is Watching You!

And

Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear by Marshall Connolly


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