HONOLULU – In a massive coordinated information-seeking campaign, 34 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates across the nation today are sending requests to 379 law enforcement agencies, large and small, demanding to know when, why and how they are using cell phone location data to track Americans.
The campaign is one of the largest coordinated information act requests in American history. The requests are being filed under states’ freedom of information laws.
The ACLU Hawaii legal team has filed requests with five agencies, requesting data about local law enforcement use of location tracking data and how it is obtained from Hawaii’s mobile phone providers. Those agencies are the Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii County police departments, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“Hawaii is particularly vulnerable as a geographically isolated state. People here are highly dependent on mobile communications to stay in touch,” says ACLU staff attorney Laurie Temple This technology is clearly ingrained in our daily lives, yet many do not realize that every moment our phones are on, we leave location ‘breadcrumbs’ behind us.
Information about the locations of mobile communications users are being stored, shared and sold by various companies. Law enforcement nationwide is increasingly using this information to profile and track ordinary people.
The ACLU wants closer scrutiny of this new form of government surveillance, and to ensure that the Hawaii state government policies uphold our rights to privacy and due process in the course of its use of these new technologies.”
“The ability to access cell phone location data is an incredibly powerful tool and yet 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 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 that includes:
• whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data;
• statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone location data;
• how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cell phones and
• other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.
Law enforcement’s use of cell phone location data has been widespread for years, although it has become increasingly controversial recently. 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.
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 cell phone 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 cell phones, it could influence the rules police have to follow for cell phone 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.