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    ACLU: Your Cell Phone Knows Where You Were Last Night . . . Who Else Does?

    On the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Allie Bohm (a friend and colleague) announces a public records request project concerning the tracking of mobile devices’ location data by law enforcement agencies across the nation:

    Chances are you’re walking around with a tracking device in your purse or pocket – a cell phone. Location data from your cell phone can make it easy to get directions or locate the nearest coffee shop, leaving no doubt that your cell phone knows where you are. Even if you use a dumb phone, cell phones constantly send out signals searching for the nearest cell tower in order to make sure your calls actually go through – and companies can estimate your location based on your proximity to nearby towers with ever-improving accuracy. […]

    What’s revealed by this perpetual tracking can be intensely personal; as a court recently found, one’s location might reveal “whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.” […]

    You might be asking yourself, “how can they do this?” Our laws simply haven’t kept pace with new technology. Furthermore, while we believe that law enforcement should always be required to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to access cell phone location information, the scary truth is that they don’t always obtain said warrant, and courts don’t always insist that they do. […]

    In order to lift the veil on this secrecy – and uncover some more examples of when, why, and how law enforcement agencies are using our cell phone location data to track us – 34 ACLU affiliates are filing public records requests with 379 agencies seeking information including:

    • whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data;
    • statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone location data;
    • how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cell phones and
    • other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.

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