Government Technology

Should Law Enforcement Use Cell Phone Data to Track Citizens?

March 25, 2011 By

Prompted by privacy concerns, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is circulating draft legislation that would require law enforcement officials to obtain warrants before using data collected from mobile devices for tracking purposes.

If formally proposed as it’s now written, the bill would severely curtail the ability of police to use geolocation information acquired by wireless carriers. Such data is utilized frequently to pinpoint the whereabouts of criminals through items such as cell phones, global positioning systems and computers.

With technology advances outpacing existing law, individuals and telecommunication companies are wary about the legalities of sharing personal location data. But as Paul Wormeli, executive director emeritus at the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, explained Friday, March 25, Wyden’s bill could also have a chilling effect on officers worried about losing their jobs.

“The draft of the legislation starts from the premise that it is illegal to use any GPS tracking devices with certain exceptions, but those exceptions are not well thought through,” Wormeli said. “It doesn’t cover all the circumstances where an exception would be warranted.”

The law includes provisions that would allow usage of mobile data in the case of emergencies, national security concerns and other critical situations. But officials are concerned that making officers acquire a warrant to use geolocation information could cost lives.
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hockeyduck30    |    Commented March 28, 2011

Why does it seem like the privacy concern laws always help those who violate the laws and puts those who follow them at risk?

Austin    |    Commented March 28, 2011

Why is it that law enforcement always claims something will hinder them but seldom backs those claims up with any data?

missouri    |    Commented April 30, 2011

why is it that people are okay with police knowing your every location. and don't give me that, nothing to hide straw man argument. its not simply about privacy, there are real questions here about the direction of freedom in the usa. are we all to be considered criminals?

vikram    |    Commented May 2, 2011

there is no privacy at all. ISP, Google/ Facebook/ mobile operators all are stealing your data (including location) every day. there is both good and bad to that. good is: tracking terrorists and their activities, tracking ur phone, ur computer, ur documents is useful. BUT bad is: they use it to profile your information and then sell to other giant enterprises or use your information for intelligence. iphone and android also were caught stealing data. there is no conclusion to this. regards, vikram

lifesaving    |    Commented May 17, 2011

I think families on cell phone plans should be able to track each other if the individual over 18 signs a release. Watched a show where a lady had wrecked, had a cell phone and cell phone co would not determine her location. Took the guy 4 days to get police to do a missing person report and think it was 8 long days before she was found by using cell phone locator. She amazingly survived.

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