The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has joined a massive coordinated national campaign demanding information on when, why and how law-enforcement agencies are using cellphone location data to track Americans. The effort is one of the largest coordinated freedom of information requests in American history.
The ACLU of Connecticut sent FOI requests today to the Connecticut State Police and the police departments in Waterbury, Danbury, Willimantic, New Haven, New London and Berlin. The goal is to obtain information about this data collection from a geographical cross-section of the state's police agencies.
Berlin is included because it was the site of warrant-less cellphone tracking in 2008, one of the few incidents known to the public. Federal investigators obtained information about calls to and from 180 mobile phone numbers from nine carriers, as well as the locations of those phones.
"This is very much the same as the government walking into private homes on a fishing expedition, without a warrant, and searching the premises," said David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut. "And technology has made it a whole lot easier.
"The private calling and location data of 180 people was seized in an act of mass surveillance," he said. "These people were subjected to an unconstitutional search and never even knew it. If any law enforcement agencies in the state are carrying out similar intrusions, the public should know about it."
More than 375 FOI requests are being filed in 31 states by 34 ACLU affiliates in an effort to strip away the secrecy that has surrounded law enforcement use of cellphone tracking capabilities.
"The ability to access cellphone location data is an incredibly powerful tool and its use is shrouded in secrecy. The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their location information is being accessed by the government," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the national ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "A detailed history of someone's movements is extremely personal and is the kind of information the Constitution protects."
Law enforcement agencies are being asked for information including:
• whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cellphone location data;
• statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cellphone location data;
• how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cellphones and
• other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.
Law enforcement's use of cellphone location data has been widespread for years, although it has become increasingly controversial recently. Just last week, the general counsel of the National Security Agency suggested to members of Congress that the NSA might have the authority to collect the location information of American citizens inside the U.S. Also, this spring, researchers revealed that iPhones were collecting and storing location information in unknown files on the phone. Police in Michigan sought information about every cellphone near the site of a planned labor protest.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a person's vehicle. While that case does not involve cellphones, it could influence the rules police have to follow for cellphone tracking.
Congress is considering the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, a bill supported by the ACLU that would require police to get a warrant to obtain personal location information. The bill would protect both historical and real-time location data, and would also require customers' consent for telecommunications companies to collect location data.
Today's requests are part of the ACLU's Demand Your dotRights Campaign, the organization's campaign to make sure that as technology advances, privacy rights are not left behind. The ACLU of Connecticut is also working on several issues where technology threatens privacy rights, including traffic surveillance cameras, DNA sampling, license plate scanning, Real ID license requirements and facial recognition software.
"The Constitution guarantees Americans freedom from unwarranted government intrusion everywhere -- in their homes, online and on their cellphones," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "Technology may make it easier for that intrusion to happen, but that's no excuse for it."
Requests were filed by the ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, San Diego and Imperial Counties, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Eastern Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Request to Connecticut State Police Regarding Cell Phone Location Records
aclu.org: Cell Phone Location Tracking Public Records Request
Demand Your dotRights