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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Are you being tracked?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner — Dave.


Are you being tracked? The answer, of course, is yes.

Most of us know that our Internet activities are constantly tracked in order to better serve us relevant advertising and search results. Better for the companies serving the ads and possibly the advertisers, but not necessarily better for us.

Fewer of us know that our cellphone providers track our location as a matter of course, not for any nefarious reason, but because it’s necessary to deliver their service. If they don’t know where we are, they can’t send the signal to a tower near us. The problem I and others have with such providers is that they store the information beyond what is reasonable for billing purposes.

If I have ninety days to dispute charges on my bill, then holding the information longer serves no business purpose. However, it does help to satisfy the increasing intrusive inclinations of various law enforcement agencies, which far too often these days, behave as if our natural right to privacy, enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, does not exist.

Law enforcement agencies track cellphones without warrants

In August 2011 the ACLU issued public records requests to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies and found that virtually all of the departments that responded tracked cellphones, most without warrants.

The majority of the 200 agencies that responded engaged in some cellphone tracking. Only a handful of those said they regularly seek warrants and demonstrate probable cause before tracking cellphones, according to the ACLU report.

Most law enforcement agencies said they track phones to investigate crimes, while others said they use tracking only in emergencies like a missing persons case. Only 10 agencies said they never use cellphone tracking.

Some law enforcement agencies provided enough documentation to paint a detailed picture of cellphone tracking activities. For example, Raleigh, North Carolina, tracks hundreds of cellphones per year based on invoices from phone companies. In Wilson County, North Carolina, police obtain historical tracking data where it’s “relevant and material” to an ongoing investigation, a standard the ACLU notes is lower than probable cause.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

I don’t object to the cops obtaining location information when they are investigating a crime and there is probable cause to justify it. When such is the case, they should get a search warrant and have at it.

I do object to the growing trend of “law enforcement” at all levels taking it upon themselves to decide what is relevant and what is not, essentially becoming judge and jury during their investigation.

Yes, they have to make decisions about who and what and why. But who’s to say if those decisions are based on something reasonable or a baseless hunch about someone who rubbed the officer the wrong way, perhaps by not being deferential enough when they were interviewed.

With power comes responsibility. Far too many in government and especially in “law enforcement” seem to live for the power and ignore the responsibility.

We have judges and a warrant system for a reason. Instead of shrugging or making excuses, it’s high time we begin punishing those  we entrust with power who ignore or circumvent the law through laziness or for any other reason.


9 Responses to “Are you being tracked?”

  1. Ginger Borgeson Says:

    Excellent article. Enlightenment if only folks will read and find out for themselves. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Just me Says:

    I’d love to comment, but my opinion will be tracked, collected, collated, verified, filed, lost, found, researched, trended, modified, manipulated, and sourced without my knowledge and for whatever reason deemed worthy, from questionable activity to random name search.

    But I’m not bitter.

  3. Leonard Barnes Says:

    In my humble opinion it should be a requirement to get a warrant with justifiable probable cause in order to openly obtain and use tracking records. If a judge grants this order then I believe it is ok to seek whatever records might be available for LEO to use. Would a warrant-less seizure of these records be admissible in court? I would hope not, and it then follows it should not be an accepted practice. Although a lie detector (polygraph) is accepted practice by LEO and defense teams but not admissible in court so it might be a poor argument on my part. In any case, I think it is an even Bigger Brother way of keeping tabs on all of us.(One more reason to leave my dumb phone at home, I am not smart enough for a Smart Phone, I can’t even figure out how to set the time on the VCR we got rid of and I would like to thank whoever decided not to put a clock display on my Blu Ray Player I can’t work yet either)!

  4. Jeffrey C. Anthony Says:

    The recent issues in the UK with cell phone hacking also show us that it may not just be the government. There’s universities that i’m betting have these capabilities as well.

    This stuff does happen, and I don’t much like most of it, but my main question is what the extent of it is.

    I’m sure the NSA can get almost anywhere, but that’s also a question of what they actually are interested in. Beyond that, there’s still a lot of law enforcement agencies that do not have direct access like most would think.

    Consider google and their transparency policies, and how many times they have denied law enforcement officials access to accounts. It’s not all good/bad information, but one interesting tidbit of note, at least look at the 0% compliance with Turkey’s government requests, for what that’s worth.

    I’m also curious of things like the alleged tracking of survivalblog’s visitors by the FBI for instance..

    But even more fun, what of it? What does the government really know about us? Is it possible that the government really knows much about us even with this invasion of privacy? Consider.

  5. Paul Says:

    I know that I am being tracked by DHS. I was put on their “monitor for activity” list for the following reasons:

    Eight combat tours in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan,
    Suffer from PTSD
    Maintain a CCW permit
    and I have more than one registered firearm.

  6. Amanda Barton Says:

    I used to work for a 911 agency in Ohio & have called different cell phone companies on numerous occasions to track cell phones. All have been life or death emergencies- suicidal subjects refusing to give their locations, mentally unstable who have wandered off, children who are missing, etc. If we had to wait for a warrant it would probably have been too late to save most of these people’s lives. While I for one dont agree with the excessive tracking that occurs in this day & age, I also dont agree with requiring a warrant for every emergency situation that requires a track. Our agency was set up where the officers called into the 911 agency, who worked in conjunction with the police departments. The police officers did not have direct access to the proper cell phone company password codes or faxes & were not able to get tracks on their own, & our 911 agency used sound judgement & only tracked in true emergencies. Instead of requiring all emergency personnel to get a warrant before obtaining records, there needs to be a crackdown on the individuals who are abusing the priviledge of having the info at our fingertips. There should be a trail of paperwork outlining the date & time & also the reason the track was needed, that’s the way it worked for us & hopefully most agencies use the same protocols.

  7. Oliver Says:

    Jeffrey, that second link is pretty good. Thanks!

    Amanda, I did not mean to imply that in an emergency situation a warrant should be required. When time is of the essence, you do what you must. But most of the location tracking that goes on these days is not done in an emergency situation. In police have evidence, then show it to the judge and get a warrant, else leave folks alone.

  8. charles scamman Says:

    Being tracked is just a way of life today. The book, 1984 was a beginners manual for what has become a very intrusive and dominating central government. I read an article recently which suggested that in a few short years all television sets sold in the US will be mandated to have cameras and microphones as standard features. It is a good thing that printed dictionaries will no longer be updated, because I feel confident that the word ‘freedom’ will soon be removed.

  9. Kentucky Kid Says:

    Seems to me that the reason for obtaining a warrant is to put a judge into the loop to insure legality of a search, whether it’s of your home, or your place of business, or your personal papers, or your location via GPS tracking.

    Law enforcement personnel, to include 911 operators and dispatchers are not judges. To give them the discretion to decide what’s legal or not opens the door for abuse. The slippery slope is too easily accessed in this manner.

    This in no way is intended to cast aspersions on anyone in the process, but the separation must be maintained. If improved procedures and techniques are necessary in order to utilize electronic tracking in an emergency situation, then that’s what we should be pursuing, not the compromising of basic liberties under the guise of expediency.




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