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.