Are the County and Towns Tracking Our Cell Phones?

Damon Seils's picture

In August 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina Foundation filed public records requests with all 100 North Carolina counties and all police departments in municipalities with populations larger than 30,000. The requests were part of a nationwide effort coordinated by the ACLU to determine under what circumstances law enforcement agencies are tracking cell phones. Both the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Chapel Hill Police Department received the requests, and here's what the ACLU found.

Like the large majority of agencies that responded to the ACLU requests, Orange County reported engaging in cell phone tracking. However, the ACLU's detailed report lists the Chapel Hill Police Department as one of several agencies that "responded to the ACLU's request by refusing to answer our questions or, more rarely, in such a manner that it was unclear whether they track cell phones." The report lists neither Orange County nor Chapel Hill among the few jurisdictions that require probable cause and a warrant to track cell phones. (Carrboro and Hillsborough did not receive requests, because their populations are smaller than 30,000.)

  • Orange County response: http://www.aclu.org/files/cellphonetracking/20120328/celltrackingpra_orangecountysheriff_orangecountync.pdf
  • Chapel Hill response: http://www.aclu.org/files/cellphonetracking/20120328/celltrackingpra_chapelhillpd2_chapelhillnc.pdf

The ACLU has provided a summary of its findings here. The page also contains information about lobbying Congress to pass the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act and to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. We should also require our local law enforcement agencies to meet a higher standard by requiring them to obtain warrants with probable cause before tracking cell phones.

 

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8 Comments

Damon Seils's picture

Re: You mean like creating a cell phone ordinace

Whatever your opinion about the phoning-while-driving ban (apparently you're against it), an ordinance regulating the behavior of private persons is not the same as a policy recognizing that town/county staff are required by law to obtain a warrant before tracking a person's location by cell phone, just as they are required to obtain a warrant for location tracking by other means.

jondehart's picture

I agree that folks should hang up and drive

That is the ironic part, I would love to see less people using their electonic devices as they drive .I see both issues as government officials overstepping their legal rights . I see them in same group. I agree, I don't like Big Brother watching and infringing on our rights . Are the local gov't tracking individuals or a composite of how people with mobile devices migrate and move in their daily lives ? We agree our leaders should be working for teh greater good, I believe both issues are not for the greater good and need to be addressed .

Geoff Green's picture

Yes, darned big brother. I

Yes, darned big brother. I would like to be able to down a beer or eight before I get in the car, instead of having to call a taxi and drag myself back to pick up the car the next day, but big brother won't let me.