Earlier this week, we began a discussion about the ways in which law enforcement agencies are engaging in large-scale cellphone data captures of individuals who may or may not be involved in criminal investigations. It is almost impossible to fathom that this conduct is in any way condoned by existing criminal law statutes.
According to USA Today and Gannett, law enforcement agencies in 33 states are engaging in these types of captures. Agencies may engage in so-called tower dumps. During these operations, agencies are given information about any phone that connects with a given cellphone tower over a set period of time. Among the information collected is the identity of the cellphone owner, the location of that phone and the activity pursued on the phone during the set time period.
Other agencies use a suitcase-sized machine called a Stingray. This device is portable and may be driven around in order to capture cellphone information in any given neighborhood. Law enforcement officers argue that Stingray devices and tower dumps can help prevent terrorist attacks, track down abducted children and otherwise enhance public safety.
However, respected civil liberties groups are voicing the obvious question that should be associated with these efforts, “At what cost?” The Fourth Amendment protects citizens generally from unlawful search and seizure efforts by the government. When these rights are not protected, both ordinary citizens and criminal defendants can suffer dire consequences. This kind of activity needs to be halted until the justice system can figure out how to insert proper oversight and warrant requirements for large-scale captures.
Source: Florida Today, “Special report: Police agencies can grab data from your cellphone,” John Kelly and Britt Kennerly, Dec. 9, 2013