Can You Find Me Now?

Today the ACLU sued the Justice Department to force it to reveal its policies for tracking the location of cell phones. As anyone who watches Law & Order: SVU knows, all cell phones double as tracking devices.They send cell phone networks information that provides a pretty accurate idea of where they are physically located. This means that if you go for a walk around town with a cell phone in your pocket, it is possible for your cell phone provider to trace your route.

At least today, your cell phone provider does not have a business reason to keep such close track of you. But the government has plenty of reasons to want to do so. The question is under what circumstances the government is going to be able to access such information.

The ACLU’s position is that people have a reasonable expectation that their movements will not be tracked, especially when they are in private places such as homes, and that the government should have to get a warrant from a court to obtain cell phone location information. The government disagrees. News reports and court decisions (PDF) indicate that the Justice Department has been asking courts to authorize it to get this information without producing evidence sufficient to get a warrant, and sometimes without any court involvement at all.

Sometimes the government wins, sometimes it does not. But the few cases that garner press attention or result in court opinions are likely to be a small subset of the number of times the government engages in such tracking.

The purpose of the lawsuit the ACLU filed today is to get the Justice Department to reveal its policies for when it tracks the location of people’s cell phones. The public has the right to know how widespread such monitoring is, so that they can fairly evaluate the privacy risks of carrying a cell phone.

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Kourosh

Everyone should be paying attention to this blog. Even just five years ago, anyone who called alert to the potential abuse of cell phone tracking would be called paranoid or a conspiracy theorist.

The truth is that this tracking is very possible. Anyone who uses google-maps on his or her phone should connect the dots that when an application is able to place your location on a map, despite the fact that the phone does not have GPS, you're trackable.

Hopefully, this discovery case will reveal a sound policy at the Justice Department. If their policy is offensive to the our constitutional rights, then that's one more mark against this (already disgraceful) administration.

Jake Adams

Are there any laws, being proposed or already passed, that REQUIRE cell phone companies to archive cell phone data, including location?

David

SVU!!! HELL YEAH!!! SOMEONE ELSE ACTUALLY KNOWS IT EXISTS!

Ok, but seriously, this warrantless business is becoming fascist. Circumventing the Constitution for political expediency was once the mark of Democrats, for creating institutions like the FDA or IRS. But now Republicans have made Democrats look like Thomas Jefferson. Their fascist policies need to stop.
VIVA LA ACLU!

edmond

This one of the reasons I stood out as a Luddite until recently in not getting a cell phone. I try to rarely use it.

robbin

You don't have to use the phone, just carry it with you. I get phone calls from strange numbers and when I call the number back I get a message that the phone has been disconnected. For example on July 3, 2008 at 10:18 am, I received a call from (606) 365-0898 when I dialed the number back it was a disconnected number. The next day at approximately the same time, I heard small engine aircraft flying overhead. The aircraft could be coincidental but after all I've been through the past few years I doubt it.

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