Live Tracking Of Mobile Phones Prompts Court Fights On Privacy
Law enforcement officials can track the physical movements and location of suspects who use cell phones easily because cell phone technology communicates with signal towers and is easy to track. However, this practice is coming under increasing scrutiny as cell phones are viewed by courts more and more within the framework of personal privacy and privacy rights.
In recent judicial decisions in Maryland, New York, and Texas, judges have denied prosecutorial requests to obtain tracking information from wireless providers because of a lack of proof of probable cause. According to legal experts, law enforcement most often use live tracking of cell phone data in drug cases.
A 1994 amendment to the 1986 Stored Communications Act allows the government to obtain such tracking data if they can show “specific and articulatable facts” that prove they need the information for “an ongoing investigation.
” The probable cause standard is higher than this, and judges and magistrates have begun to demand probable cause be met in these cases, unlike recent past practices.
Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston says live tracking of cell phone users is not covered by the Stored Communications Act, which applies to stored data from an electronic historical record, and judges in both New York and Maryland recently concurred.
In terms of privacy issues, writing on the outside of an envelope is considered to be legally public, for instance, while a letter within is private. Cell phone and other types of electronic communication blur this distinction by transmitting location, address, and message all in one stream; as a result many legal experts agree current law is fuzzy on how to govern it. Today there are 195 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. today.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the New York Times (12/10/05) P. A1; Richtel, Matt .