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.
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.