Yesterday, the Texas House of Representatives passed the first bill in the nation that would require law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant before tracking individuals' location by collecting their cell phone location data. As Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas put it, "By approving this amendment, our legislators would take a significant step to preserve the Fourth Amendment rights of Texas citizens, protecting them from potential unreasonable searches and seizures that could take place entirely outside judicial review." They would also set a precedent that the rest of the country should be quick to follow.
We've been talking about location tracking for a long time now, because where you go says a lot about who you are—are you going to gay bars, a mosque, a fundamentalist church, a gun store, an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, a political protest, etc.? In August 2011, 35 ACLU affiliates filed over 380 public records requests with state and local law enforcement agencies to ask about their policies, procedures and practices for tracking cell phones, and in April 2012, an additional affiliate filed 27 requests. What we learned is alarming: the laws and policies guiding cell phone location tracking across the country are in a state of chaos, with agencies in different towns following different rules — or in some cases, having no rules at all.