Cellphones can be helpful for things like keeping in touch, receiving emails or texts remotely or calling emergency services after accidents. What many people forget, however, is that cellphones are also key tracking devices for federal and local law enforcement agencies. The practice of using cellphones to track people, many times without warrants, is becoming both routine and controversial as civil rights groups question infringement of privacy rights.
Reasons for tracking phones range from investigating criminal activity to locating missing persons, but requests are frequently made under less urgent scenarios and often without warrants. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), many law enforcement departments across the nation track cellphones on a regular basis.
Some cellphone service providers require court orders to monitor a person’s cellphone activity, like calls, texts and location, but many simply charge a fee per surveillance request, making it easy for police to obtain data without the stringent probable cause requirement needed for warrants. This has created an inconsistent rule for all police departments to follow when requesting cellphone tracking. Some law enforcement agencies claim requiring a warrant to track cellphones delays the ability to keep up with criminal activity or to find people in immediate danger.
Violations of Rights
One recent U.S. Supreme Court case found that a Global Positioning System (GPS) device put on the car of a drug crime suspect to track location was a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. Although about GPS devices, this ruling is being pulled into the debate about better standards for cellphone tracking.
The ACLU, a major opponent of warrantless tracking, wants the government to enact clearer and more consistent policies about cellphone tracking to protect people’s privacy and Constitutional rights against unreasonable searches. Currently, some states and the U.S. Congress are working on bills to make cellphone tracking practices more stringent but, in the meantime, there is often no way for people to prevent carriers or law enforcement units from implementing surveillance on their personal cellphones.
If you are arrested for a crime following an investigation that included cellphone monitoring or tracking, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to ascertain whether the police violated your privacy or Constitutional rights.