Map of US police departments' policies on tracking cell-phone use without a warrant

ACLU affiliates across America requested information on local law enforcement's use of cell-phone tracking, and received a wealth of disturbing information about the extent of wireless tracking. They produced a map showing which police departments were discovered to be tracking people's phones without a warrant, either by getting gutless phone companies to fink out their own customers for warrantless fishing expeditions, or by buying some kind of "cell phone tracking equipment."

Many law enforcement agencies track cell phones quite frequently. For example, based on invoices from cell phone companies, it appears that Raleigh, N.C. tracks hundreds of cell phones a year. The practice is so common that cell phone companies have manuals for police explaining what data the companies store, how much they charge police to access that data, and what officers need to do to get it.

Most law enforcement agencies do not obtain a warrant to track cell phones, but some do, and the legal standards used vary widely. Some police departments protect privacy by obtaining a warrant based upon probable cause when tracking cell phones. For example, police in the County of Hawaii, Wichita, and Lexington, Ky. demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant when tracking cell phones. If these police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well.

Unfortunately, other departments do not always demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant when tracking cell phones. For example, police in Lincoln, Neb. obtain even GPS location data, which is more precise than cell tower location information, on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. Police in Wilson County, N.C. obtain historical cell tracking data where it is "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation, a standard lower than probable cause.

Police use various methods to track cell phones. Most commonly, law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone records about one person from a cell phone carrier. However, some police departments, like in Gilbert, Ariz., have purchased their own cell tracking technology.

Is Your Local Law Enforcement Tracking Your Cell Phone's Location? (via /.)


  1. You go, ACLU. It’s bad enough Google and Verizon know where I am. Not the effing cops, too.

  2. A mobster can allllmost drive from Buffalo to Houston… except for that pesky Virginia panhandle

  3. That’s a map of states where the ACLU filed requests for information. The gray states are just those where the local ACLU hasn’t investigated yet, not where your personal information is safe.

      1. Well hopefully their are some states where you information is safe. If it were to be the gray ones that would be good. CO for the win. 

  4. I just wanted to say that the best part about the response from my local police department here in Oklahoma City is the following;

    “Our public information officer, Captain Patrick Stewart, is available to discuss this matter with you at your convenience.”

  5. You would want police to pinpoint your cell phone if it got stolen/you lost it. Or imagine how many distraught mothers call police to track their missing child.

    It would be helpful if these tracking statistics were broken down by owner/guardian consent.

    1. Daniella, you hit the nail on the head. I mean, if it’s a mom that is. See, a Dad wouldn’t really bring up the notion of asking the police to track the phone, since it’s not the small child that’s holding it … but himself … ?

      Anyway, for older children, there’s some sweet parent-stalker software out for most modern cell phones that lets you keep tabs on your kid’s location, speed, etc. … ?

      So, basically you have it all backwards and you’re being a total goon by batting your eyelashes and pleading innocence for the police. If you were to do a little digging, you would find that there is a mandatory waiting period to report a missing person in a whole lot of places. That’ll give judges plenty of time to sign a warrant.

      We didn’t really cover the issue of cell phone jamming in public places, which could mean the difference between a good recovery and death in the case of a stroke or heart attack. Perhaps you should lobby for this too. Old people suck, and they don’t really deserve proper care.

      As for the police tracking your lost cell phone… you cannot possibly be serious. Oh, and zip up your pants. Your vag is showing, and that’s not very classy.

  6. Our rights keep getting violated because there are no meaningful penalties for doing so.

    It would be helpful if this post also included a link to the “take action now” URL on the ACLU site that generated this map.

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