Law enforcement agencies around the nation are increasingly turning to tracking cell phones in surveillance operations, and, according to a recent report by the ACLU, they are doing so largely without the benefit of a warrant. According to the secular legal group, many of the more than 200 police departments that responded to the ACLU survey on their use of such tracking said that their officers do not bother with a warrant to access such investigative resources.
According to the New York Times, many police departments insist that with the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, tracking them has become “a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders.” The Times cited one police training manual as describing cell phones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” tracking individuals’ calls, travel, Internet activity, personal and business contacts, and more.
Predictably, cell phone companies have discovered that such law enforcement activity has the potential of providing them with a unique and lucrative revenue stream. The Times noted that some companies are now “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 groups such as the ACLU argue that the practice rides roughshod over the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against the unreasonable search of an individual’s person or effects.
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