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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    New York Times: Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool

    The New York Times reports that police are routinely using phone tracking and sometimes hiding the fact that they use this type of surveillance. The report is based on documents turned over to the ACLU after many state affiliates filed public records requests with local law enforcement agencies. The Times reports:

    Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

    The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations. [...]

    But civil liberties advocates say the wider use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. While many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies, others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to 5,500 pages of internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments nationwide.

    The internal documents, which were provided to The New York Times, open a window into a cloak-and-dagger practice that police officials are wary about discussing publicly. While cell tracking by local police departments has received some limited public attention in the last few years, the A.C.L.U. documents show that the practice is in much wider use — with far looser safeguards — than officials have previously acknowledged. [...]

    Most of the police departments cited in the records did not return calls seeking comment. But other law enforcement officials said the legal questions were outweighed by real-life benefits. [...]

    Many departments try to keep cell tracking secret, the documents show, because of possible backlash from the public and legal problems. Although there is no evidence that the police have listened to phone calls without warrants, some defense lawyers have challenged other kinds of evidence gained through warrantless cell tracking. [...]

    “Do not mention to the public or the media the use of cellphone technology or equipment used to locate the targeted subject,” the Iowa City Police Department warned officers in one training manual. It should also be kept out of police reports, it advised.

    Read the full article for much more on how police are using the cellphone tracking technology, sometimes without judicial safeguards.

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    2 Responses to “New York Times: Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool”

    1. Benjamin Wright Says:

      Scott Wallace details on his blog, with video, how the helicopter unit of the Los Angeles police track his phone for the purpose of harassment. Please help him draw attention to his story. lapd-choppers.blogspot.com

    2. Tweets that mention » Privacy Lives: New York Times: Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool Says:

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