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Is the Government Tracking You via Cell Phone?

Posted by Bill on November 29, 2007

The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press reported in the rcfp sidebar today that the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, FOIA Request filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting documents about how federal officials have reportedly tracked people using their mobile phone signals. The FOIA requests comes after the Washington Post reported on the practice last week in the November 23 edition. 

The Post reported that federal law enforcement is routinely asking courts to order cell phone companies to furnish real time tracking data so they can locate drug traffickers, fugitives or other criminal suspects.  Some judges have granted such orders without requiring the usual “probable cause” standard under the U.S. Constitution, 4th Amendment. 

The article stated: “In a stinging opinion this month, a federal judge in Texas denied a request by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent for data that would identify a drug traffickers phone location by using the carrier’s E911 tracking capability. . . . Magistrate Judge Brian L. Owsley, of Corpus Christi division of the Southern District of Texas, said the agent’s affidavit failed to focus on “specifics necessary to establish probable cause, such as relevant dates, names and places.”  The judge wanted some specific information that the phone was being used in a criminal activity.  The judge said that the agent simply alleged that the subject trafficked in narcotics and used the phone to do so. 

 This is an issue that is of growing concern to privacy groups and to law enforcement.  Does law enforcement need probable cause to track or locate a cell phone?  This could work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bill Lowrance
President PIAVA


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