Are You Being Tracked Right Now by the Government?
To read a companion article on Huffington Post, see The Legal Battle Over Cell Phone Location Privacy
Did you know the government can be tracking you as you listen to this podcast? In today’s Lawyers.com Radio broadcast, host Matt Plessner interviews Editor in Chief Larry Bodine about an alarming trend going through the courts right now, where the police are making requests to cell phone companies to tell them the location of their customers.
“They’re not asking to listen in on the calls, they just say, ‘we want to know where the person is,’” Bodine says. Today’s show is sponsored by Internet Law Radio, a production of the Traverse Legal Office in Traverse City, Mich.
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires the police to get a search warrant in almost all cases, by showing probable cause that somebody committed a crime.
But the police are saying, “We don’t want to bother showing probable cause. We don’t want to bother getting a warrant. We just want the information, just based on our request,” Bodine says.
For example, the police are required to get a search warrant if they break into your computer and see what you’re doing with it. That is what a search warrant is for. The police have to go before a judge and demonstrate probable cause, and an independent judge will decide whether to issue a search warrant.
The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation are making arguments in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the police do need to get a search warrant.
Massive Information from a Location Record
“Let me spell out how much information you can get from a location record. With your cell phone and the police tracking it, they can tell if you went to a church or you went to a bar. They can tell if you went to a political party meeting and if you campaigned, they can tell whose doors you knocked on. They can tell if you went to a job interview. And they can tell whether you went to your girlfriend’s house or to a gym. If you’re a student they can tell what class you attended. Depending on your orientation, they can tell if you went to a gay bar,” Bodine said.
“These are ordinarily things that people don’t want advertised or made available to anybody besides themselves. The police can use all this information to build a profile of you that goes into your social, political, professional and personal identity. They’re going to be able to figure your habits, your relationships and all your activities. And that’s an incredible invasion of privacy,” he says.
If you have an ordinary cell phone, the police can check your location any time you make a call, send a text message or send an email – without a warrant. If you have a smartphone, a lot more information comes out, because a smart phone sends out a GPS signal that’s still sending even if the phone is turned off.”
Is there any way to prevent being tracked by your cell phone? “Sure. Just leave your cell phone at home and don’t ever use it, and then nobody will be able to track you, which defeats the whole purpose of having a cell phone.”
“The ordinary person with a cell phone doesn’t expect that detailed records about where they’ve been are being kept over long periods of time. Certainly, you don’t expect that this information will be turned over to the police without more them doing more than making a request — and without notifying you,” Bodine says.