What was originally a very rare practice and largely limited to federal authorities – the tracking of cellphones by police – has now become more common, and has spread to state and local police agencies.
The New York Times reports that:
With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.
But civil liberties advocates say the wider use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. While many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies, others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to 5,500 pages of internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments nationwide.
This report comes two months after the Supreme Court ruled in January in U.S. v. Jones that the defendant’s conviction be reversed because police used had used information from a GPS tracking device without first getting a warrant as required under the Fourth Amendment.