ACLU questioning cell phone tracking methods by police - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

ACLU questioning cell phone tracking methods by police

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Almost every American owns one, and chances are, it rarely leaves your side. We're talking, of course, about cell phones.

"They have come a long ways just as far as technology goes. Like navigation is getting more higher function because the phones are getting higher functions. You can use them to identify gas stations, restaurants," said Drew Kahler, a representative of Verizon Wireless.

What many people do not realize, is the same feature that allows you to find your way around town, allows police to find their way to you.

"Where cell phone pinging, or cell phone tapping, has been very very useful for law enforcement is in the cases of missing persons or suicidal persons," said Director of Waterloo Safety Services, Dan Trelka.

Lately, the practice of collecting and using geolocation data is coming under scrutiny. The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating the ways law enforcement agents track American cell phone users. The Iowa chapter sent Freedom of Information requests to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Sioux City, and Davenport.

The ACLU is asking for answers to four main questions: Whether agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data, how frequently agencies are obtaining cell phone location data, how much is spent on tracking cell phones, and what other policies or procedures they use to acquire the information.

"Technology is developing so rapidly, it's probably getting easier everyday to monitor cell phones and to track cell phones. However, we have rules we need to follow. Rules established by the courts," said Trelka.

Congress is currently debating a bill which would restrict police from tapping into your whereabouts without your knowledge. The Geolocations Privacy and Surveillance Act would protect location data, and require customer consent for telecommunications companies to collect such information. The legislation came up after researchers learned that iPhones were collecting and storing information without the user's knowledge.

Currently, the Waterloo Police Department compares its decisions about location tracking to entering a private residence.

"Okay, what do we need to get into a house. We need probable cause, in some circumstances we need to get a warrant. And we apply that reasoning to the new technology," explained Trelka.

Trelka believes their policies do protect your privacy. But you'll always have your bad apples, which is why the ACLU is pushing for better regulation.

"They're raising some legitimate concerns," said Trelka. "No system is perfect, but I've been around the world and in the United States we've got a pretty good system."

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