It's been over a year since 35 ACLU affiliates filed over 380 public records requests with state and local law enforcement agencies seeking information about their policies, procedures, and practices for tracking cell phones. And 13 months later (and in the wake of this front page article in the New York Times), we're still handling responses. We've posted the latest batch of documents received on our interactive webmap; here are highlights:
Some law enforcement agencies are trying to avoid letting the public know what they're doing. The law enforcement guide for police in Irvine, CAspecifically 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." Read: "We would hate for the public to know how easy it is for us to obtain their personal information. It would be inconvenient if they asked for privacy protections." Law enforcement could most likely solve more crimes more expediently if they could break down a suspect's front door or open his/her postal mail without a warrant, but as my colleague Catherine Crump points out, while that may be convenient, it is not okay. Warrantless cell phone location tracking shouldn't be either.