Civil Liberties

Cellphone Tracking is Common and Policies Vary, Says ACLU


With headlines abounding about the ease with which our activities and travels can be tracked via those handy, better-than-Star Trek-communicators devices we're so accustomed to toting around,it's worth giving some thought to just how likely it is that our personal cellphones are beng used to snitch on us. Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union is doing the hard work of contacting law-enforcement agencies around the country to determine what policies they have in place, and the frequency with which they implement those policies to plot our movements on the map like so many migrating wildebeest. Speaking of maps, the ACLU has an interactive map by which you can find the responses received so far to their queries — and some of those answers are doozies.

Here are some highlights:

The law enforcement guide for police in Irvine, CA specifically states, "Do not disclose this information in court any more than is absolutely necessary to make your case. Never disclose to the media these techniques—especially cell tower tracking."

We saw the same attitude in training materials from the Iowa Fusion Center, which instructs law enforcement, "Do not mention to the public or media the use of cell phone technology or equipment to locate the targeted subject."

The ACLU does note that "some of the law enforcement agencies in California, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, reported that, like their counterparts in parts of Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and New Jersey, they always obtain probable cause warrants in order to track cell phone location information." But, I'll point out that, among those agencies claiming to adhere to a probable cause standard is Arizona's own Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (PDF), and I wouldn't believe an MCSO spokescritter who claimed that water was wet.