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The ACLU got its hands on 5,500 pages of internal records from 205 police departments all over the country

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has obtained documents that show that federal agencies aren't the only ones using cell phone tracking -- it has become a regular practice for both small and large police departments throughout the U.S. as well.

The ACLU got its hands on 5,500 pages of internal records from 205 police departments all over the country. The documents show that many police departments are putting cell phone tracking to major use with little safeguards, but they're not talking about it. Wireless carriers are in on it too, making a pretty penny by offering surveillance fees to police departments that want to collect information like a cell phone's location, or trace phone calls or texts.

Some specific examples from the internal documents include Gilbert, Arizona, which spent $244,000 on its own tracking equipment; Ogden, Utah, where the Sheriff's Department leaves it up to the cell carrier to collect information on a cell phone; California, where state prosecutors suggested that local police get carriers to duplicate a phone and download the test messages when it is turned off, and certain cities in states like Nevada and North Carolina have managed to get carriers to track cell phone signals back to cell towers in non-emergency situations in an effort to determine which callers are using a specific tower.

"Some jurisdictions were forthcoming about the fact that they don't seek warrants to track cell phone location," said the ACLU. "Take for example, police in Lincoln, Neb., who obtain even GPS location data (which is more precise than cell tower location information) without demonstrating probable cause. Or police in Wilson County, N.C.who obtain historical cell tracking data where it is "relevant" to an ongoing investigation — a standard lower than probable cause.

"Then there are the departments who either refused to tell us whether they obtain a warrant or ignored our question altogether — never a good sign. And there were the small number of departments who appear to have outsourced this question to cell phone companies. Weber County, Utah, for example, informed us that "Each provider has a different system for authorizing police use of location information and we comply with whatever that cell phone provider requests." I don't know about you, but I don't trust my cell phone provider to insist on a probable cause warrant — and with good reason: the cell phone companies’ manuals we received indicate that they don't always demand a warrant."

The ACLU found that many police department manuals throughout the U.S. mention cell phone tracking as a tool, but warn that the use of cell phone tracking (especially those that are warrantless) should not be discussed with the public or media because of the backlash that could arise. A Nevada manual, for instance, states that cell phone tracing without a warrant "is only authorized for life-threatening emergencies!!" while others (such as those in Iowa) say to simply keep the matter hush-hush and out of police reports, whether it is warrantless or not. 

It's important to note that the internal documents obtained by the ACLU have not found that police departments are listening in on phone calls without court warrants. They are, however, tracing cell phones in order to get the locations and records of certain users.

Some police departments have said that cell phone tracking is very valuable because it aids in finding a child that has been kidnapped or murder cases. However, the ACLU is concerned that the use of cell phone tracking has the potential to be abused, especially when police act without court consent. For instance, a Supreme Court ruling this past January found that a GPS device used on the car of a drug suspect violated Fourth Amendment rights. The ACLU worries that cell phone tracking could fall under that same violation against unreasonable searches.

Overall, the internal documents spelled out that while police departments are using cell phone tracking more regularly, they're still trying to figure out the legal end of the situation. Not all departments are abusing the tool, but there is a fine line between the police department's need for information in dire cases and the citizen's need for privacy.

Sources: The New York Times, ACLU

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news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/2012 11:10:19 AM , Rating: 5
It pains me to see that our Constitutional rights are going out the window each day.

Why, do you say?

Most Anandtech readers (Pirks and Tony Swash excluded), are informed and realize that the government is getting more and more suppressive each day.

Companies like Apple are trying to take advantage of the loop holes and flaws in our systems for personal gain. And that's even after admitting they have more capital than they need.

I feel for the people of the UK, because it is even more prevalent there. Cameras everywhere, people assumed to be guilty before innocent.

It seems that we are all being subjugated by the new order of "Police States".

The problem is that most of us here understand the impending destruction of our Constitutional rights, but the average Joe is content to sit on the couch and be influenced by commercials and biased news channels and media.

Couch potatoes being taken advantage of. Fools

I'm patenting this concept as the "Homer Simpson Effect". DOH!

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. Albert Einstein

RE: news flash!
By stardude692001 on 4/3/2012 11:54:50 AM , Rating: 4
It's like A Brave New World meets 1984
people smarter than I saw this coming decades ago, and still even with all their work here we are.

I wounder how long it will be till the ACLU gets outlawed or corrupted as well?

RE: news flash!
By ClownPuncher on 4/3/2012 11:54:36 AM , Rating: 2
It probably already is, at some level.

The RIAA and NSA it will take it under their wing, I'm sure. ;)

RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/12, Rating: -1
RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/12, Rating: -1
RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/12, Rating: -1
RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/2012 12:48:27 PM , Rating: 1
In all seriousness, it isn't Obama or anyone else. Our "Democratic" system is gridlocked, and there is no room for anything other than Republicans vs Democrats in average Joe's mind.

What we really need is a fair system without an exclusive two party monopoly, and we need to get rid of the lobbyists (people making bribes for personal gain). That is Corporate America influencing Government.

Just as we have separation of Church and State, we need separation of Corporate America and State.

RE: news flash!
By EricMartello on 4/3/2012 4:33:26 PM , Rating: 1
It's time for the Peoples' Party of America to come to power!

RE: news flash!
By Regected on 4/3/2012 5:00:36 PM , Rating: 3
We do not and have not EVER had a democratic system. We have a representative republic. I wish people would learn the difference and stop throwing around the word democracy.

RE: news flash!
By WalksTheWalk on 4/3/2012 5:51:19 PM , Rating: 3
We do have a representative republic with some checks and balances. Without proper checks and balances a democracy is tyranny of the many and a republic is tyranny of the few.

What we need is a republic with better checks and balances: term limits for every office, including the Supreme Court, and complete funding transparency so it's clear where the money is flowing.

RE: news flash!
By Reclaimer77 on 4/3/12, Rating: -1
RE: news flash!
By Jeffk464 on 4/3/2012 10:16:22 PM , Rating: 2
Local governments can and do get just as corrupt as the Federal government. In fact it kind of takes the Federal government to break up local corruption.

RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/3/2012 10:30:58 PM , Rating: 3
Separation of Corporate America and the State? Wtf does that even mean.

It means that we need big corporations to stop bribing government officials for the purpose of financial gain.

Are you daft?

Legal bribery is OK, but it isn't OK to express your dissatisfaction of current legislation by using your Constitutional rights to protest, as that will likely get you arrested.

Picket or show support of your Union, or your beliefs, and you will be subjugated.

RE: news flash!
By Noya on 4/3/2012 10:36:02 PM , Rating: 3
Our country is a corporate plutocracy. And nothing is going to change that aside from a revolution.

RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/4/2012 2:50:31 AM , Rating: 3
Since most people think Al Gore created the Internet - (He coined the phrase "The Information Superhighway"), which is a far cry from creating the WWW, I have little hope for us as a human race.

Is it any surprise that education in this country is valued less than sports or media?

Funding for colleges and other educational means is continuously reduced.

Keep people stupid and you can impose anything on them that you want.

In history, politicians entertained the Roman common-folk with the Colosseum, and the

Greeks with the Symposium (Theater). All of this was to keep them occupied and

uninformed, just as we, in the US, now favor TV and sports over education.

I will not deny that sports are important and valuable, as they originally were used as

a way for different factions to prove their worth, be athletically challenged, keep in

shape, etc.

But the few in power rule the many. They dumb down the common folk so they can

continue to gain wealth and power. How has that ever been different since ancient

times, Democracy, Republic, Socialism, or _fill_in_the_blank ?

RE: news flash!
By muhahaaha on 4/4/2012 2:53:42 AM , Rating: 2
edit button please. or fix stup1d formatting problems

RE: news flash!
By Reclaimer77 on 4/4/12, Rating: -1
RE: news flash!
By Invane on 4/6/2012 11:30:41 PM , Rating: 2
I, for one, completely agree with your line of thought here. both parties have become corrupted via corporate lobbying. The Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for this exact problem. I am still utterly aghast at this SCOTUS decision. Lobbying has become 100% legal bribery of the government.

It no longer matters which party you vote for, because either vote is the same: you are voting for the corporations of the United States. You just get to choose which party's affiliated corporate interests you find more palatable.

They are gaining more and more power via lobbying and regulatory capture. They currently control what the American populace views and can feed them exactly what they want them to see. The vast majority of the American populace will believe what's put in front of them if you do it often enough. Thus they have gained a measure of control.

Via money spent on lobbying and manipulation of the American populace, they are basically capturing the government. It's actually very scary and I believe it will only get worse from here.

Welcome to China, ca. 1954.
By alpha754293 on 4/3/2012 11:32:43 AM , Rating: 2
Welcome to China, ca. 1954.

RE: Welcome to China, ca. 1954.
By stardude692001 on 4/3/2012 11:59:51 AM , Rating: 3
we beat the soviets only to become them.

RE: Welcome to China, ca. 1954.
By TSS on 4/3/2012 7:02:40 PM , Rating: 2
Beat is sort of relative here.

The US is in financial ruin while russia is doing fine. The russian people are still worse off, for the time being. But Putin is running with a very effective power-though-resources strategy. The dependance of europe on russian gas alone assures there won't be any conflict between russia and the EU for a long time to come. Aside from the regular ol' political posturing of course.

While the US is losing influence in africa to china, the same in latin america (the deals brazil is making with china are staggering), has been pretty much overthrown in the middle east (many of the old regimes that got overthrown where US supported. All that's really left is saudi arabia, aside from the obvious israel, libia was played nicely by sarkozy) and is losing influence over europe as well (Did you know much of the current government debt mess was created by investments in credit default swaps? just about every city in italy bought into it, big and small. Those came from american banks). Aside from aforementioned financial ruin.

Once the US as a superpower has fallen, how you come out of it is what will define wether you beat the ruskies or not. Will you regroup and start over with a free nation or finally have the tree refreshed with the blood of a few tirants?

By Dr of crap on 4/4/2012 8:27:19 AM , Rating: 2
There is no way anybody will care, and the days of America being "the one" are numbered. Our debt will take us down and keep us down.

Of course there are those with influence ( read money ), that will have power, but they are not many, and they will make even more cash from the stupid American masses.

But hey, we got our iphones.

By stardude692001 on 4/4/2012 9:41:26 AM , Rating: 1
We beat the soviets not the Russians, they are not the exact same thing. That would be like saying NATO and the US are the same thing. If you look at a lot of the non Russia soviet states you see problems that no other white run countries in the world have, like high infant mortality.

on your other point the US evil, I live here and hate most of the people around me. blah blah American appathy killes more people than cancer. This country is a piece of shit. But everyone else seems to be just as dumb because they are buying our BS.

"I can only see a better world built from the ashes of this one"

By Reclaimer77 on 4/4/2012 2:59:16 PM , Rating: 2
Russia is "doing fine"? Most experts I've read say Russia is turning into a third world country. That ain't fine.

Show some numbers
By mattclary on 4/3/2012 10:21:59 AM , Rating: 2
So, how many kidnapped children have been saved by this? This is the old, "Think of the children" argument.

RE: Show some numbers
By Cr0nJ0b on 4/3/2012 10:30:56 AM , Rating: 2
...if only one child is saved....and it's not like we are doing it all of the can trust us, we're your government and we are here to help.

RE: Show some numbers
By Adonlude on 4/3/2012 11:35:54 AM , Rating: 3
I'm sorry but unjust atrocities occur. It may happen to me and mine or it may happen to you, either way, thats life. I'm not willing to give up liberty for some extra security, to trade freedom for safety. Why don't we just put every American on 24hr surviellance and prison style lockdown, then rape and murder would be impossible.

RE: Show some numbers
By mattclary on 4/3/2012 11:51:56 AM , Rating: 2
He was being sarcastic. ;)

RE: Show some numbers
By TSS on 4/3/2012 6:47:49 PM , Rating: 2
Hah, rape and murder impossible? Just who would guard all those americans on lockdown? And what do you think they would do with their newfound unlimited power?

Employers don't
By GGA1759 on 4/3/2012 9:26:37 AM , Rating: 2
have to ask you for your Facebook email and password. All they need to do is go to the local police department to keep tabs on your social exploits.

Fairy tales
By stilltrying on 4/3/2012 8:47:30 PM , Rating: 2
We were all sold a story in school about this country being free and being a republic and being a democracy. It has been sold over and over and we have all bought it. You are voting on your masters that simply toe the line to do what they are told by men above them. Keep believing in fairy tales that your vote counts. It doesnt and it hasnt. Its all rigged. There are only laws for the peasants like 95% of us. This place is an oligarchy/plutocracy like no other. We have the best propaganda system ever designed. This populace is the rapee while it defends the raper.
Men in power only seek more power - always has been always will be, cops are no different.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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