In a massive coordinated information-seeking campaign, 34 American Civil Liberties Union affiliates across the nation today are sending 379 requests to local law enforcement agencies large and small demanding to know when, why and how they are using cellphone location data to track Americans. The requests, being filed under the states' freedom of information laws, are an effort to strip away the secrecy that has surrounded law enforcement use of cellphone tracking capabilities.
“The ability to access cellphone location data is an incredibly powerful tool and its use is shrouded in secrecy. The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their location information is being accessed by the government,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “A detailed history of someone's movements is extremely personal and is the kind of information the Constitution protects.”
Law enforcement agencies are being asked for information including:
- whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cellphone location data;
- statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cellphone location data;
- how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cellphones and
- other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.
Law enforcement’s use of cellphone location data has been widespread for years, although it has become increasingly controversial recently. Just last week, the general counsel of the National Security Agency suggested to members of Congress that the NSA might have the authority to collect the location information of American citizens inside the U.S. Also, this spring, researchers revealed that iPhones were collecting and storing location information in unknown files on the phone. Police in Michigan sought information about every cellphone near the site of a planned labor protest.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a person's vehicle. While that case does not involve cellphones, it could influence the rules police have to follow for cellphone tracking.
Congress is considering the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, a bill supported by the ACLU that would require police to get a warrant to obtain personal location information. The bill would protect both historical and real-time location data, and would also require customers' consent for telecommunications companies to collect location data.
Today’s requests are part of the ACLU’s Demand Your dotRights Campaign, the organization’s campaign to make sure that as technology advances, privacy rights are not left behind.
Requests were filed by the ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, San Diego and Imperial Counties, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Eastern Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
More information about the requests is available at: www.aclu.org/locationtracking