Local Police Use GPS Without Probable Cause

Author: Craig Blaha
Published: April 02, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Despite a recent decision by the Supreme Court limiting the use of gps based surveillance, local law enforcement has made wide use of the gps technology in cell phones to solve crimes and track suspects, sometimes with little regard to constitutional rights.

The ACLU has issued over 200 records requests to law enforcement agencies all over the country regarding their use of location tracking technology found in cell phones, and the responses were eye opening. According to MSNBC:

Virtually all of the 200 law enforcement agencies that responded to public records requests filed by the ACLU track cellphones without warrants, with several falling far short of probable cause

The ACLU report highlights the legal and procedural issues faced by law enforcement personnel. Some responded that they only used cell phone location in case of an emergency, such as missing elderly or children. Only 10 of the 200 responses said they have never tracked cell phones. Others offer a different picture:

Many law enforcement agencies track cell phones quite frequently. For example, based on invoices from cell phone companies, it appears that Raleigh, N.C. tracks hundreds of cell phones a year. The practice is so common that cell phone companies have manuals for police explaining what data the companies store, how much they charge police to access that data, and what officers need to do to get it.

The wide diversity of approaches to cell phone GPS surveillance highlight the need for consistent advice on how to use GPS surveillance in a way that protects privacy and the constitutional rights of citizens. Since, according to the report, most agencies do not obtain a warrant to conduct GPS surveillance, any guidance should also include an oversight and accountability program to ensure the protection of privacy.


image: pbs.org


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Article Author: Craig Blaha

Craig is a privacy, secrecy, and social media researcher pursuing his PhD in Information Studies at UT Austin. Craig teaches undergraduate classes on Social Media and Privacy and the Internet and Public Policy. …

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