Saturday, June 16, 2012

Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking’s Road to Legal Validation

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GPS use by authorities has never set well with the public since it instills a sense of unease and consequently ignites numerous privacy debates. Constant surveillance by one’s own government is not just very Orwellian but also reminiscent of a totalitarian or police state like Stalin’s Russia. And that is the exact feeling that one gets when coming across governments which openly support it.

The Geo Location Law

In Mexico law makers have given their federal investigators complete rights to use cell phone tracking via GPS without having to go through any legal processes. What this really means is that in order to track and locate suspected individuals, Mexican authorities do not need a warrant. All they need to do is roughly fill in some forms and begin targeted cell phone tracking. Essentially, this means that there is no authority to question their surveillance methods and practices.

It is called the ‘Geo Location Law’ but in actuality is a complete set of reforms for their criminal and telecommunication policies. Whats interesting is that unlike the US, where laws are passed despite much opposition and criticism, the Mexican legislature did not hesitate to unanimously agree to it. One of the inferences which can be drawn by this is that it was a practice already under way. And now has finally gained legal recognition.

GPS Ambiguity in the US

This brings us to the situation in United States. The Supreme Court has already given some rulings about GPS which establishes that tracking automobiles without a warrant is against constitutional rights. But the question of cell phone tracking still remains unanswered as the Supreme Court maintains silence on the matter. Are we to take this as some sort of hint that agencies and intelligence are using this legal vagueness as a go ahead to continue using GPS cell phone tracking for their surveillance agenda?

The Reailty

An ACLU Study says yes. In a recent research, the ACLU has used findings from law enforcement groups in over 31 states. They investigated 380 public records requests and the 200 responses made to them by police departments. The results are that police departments are using GPS tracking constantly without bothering to obtain warrants. Just because the Supreme Court has not said anything outright does not make this constitutional. If anything it is a direct violation of the 4th Amendment.

Further the practice is so common that cell phone companies even supply manuals that inform users how to contact the police officers who are most probably monitoring them. Other cell phone companies even charge ‘surveillance fees’ to police departments. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, it also isn’t all that uncommon for departments to have their own surveillance equipment on hand.

The truth remains that Mexico has boldly changed its policies and is carrying on with it. Just because the US hasn’t yet doesn’t mean it won’t. And even if the vow of silence stays intact for years, don’t be fooled into thinking that the practice is not widespread in your country. More so, an escape from this kind of GPS tracking doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. Especially since the method being used is cell phone tracking and all of us are painfully aware how impossible it is to make do without our cell phones.


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