Millions caught in cell phone tracking by US police agencies [World Socialist Website]

by Joseph Kishore

10 December 2013

With the support of the Obama administration, police agencies in the US receive detailed call and location records of Americans’ cell phone activity without a warrant, according to reports released yesterday. The information could be used to track the movements of individuals and quickly determine who is involved in protests or other political activity.

Cell phone information, which includes location data, is gathered by police in at least two different ways:

1. By obtaining cell phone “tower dumps” of data from major telecommunication companies;

2. By utilizing special mobile devices, known as Stingrays, that masquerade as a cell phone tower to intercept data in the surrounding area.

A report by the Washington Post was based on information revealed in a US Senate inquiry, while the USA Today and Gannett newspapers published a separate analysis based on public records.

Telecommunication companies reported more than 9,000 tower dump requests last year, according to the Post, with each request covering hundreds or even thousands of individuals. This means that the information on potentially millions of people is involved, with those caught up in the data collection never informed.

In at least one instance, a Stingray device was used specifically for the purpose of political monitoring. According to USA Today, “When Miami-Dade [Florida] police bought their Stingray device, they told the City Council the agency needed to monitor protesters at an upcoming world trade conference, according to purchasing records.”

Since the Stingray device can be mounted in a police van and used to gather cell phone data in a given area, it can be used to obtain the identity of anyone involved in a political protest or meeting, so long as they have a cell phone turned on. Cell phones regularly interact with phone towers, or police devices masquerading as a phone tower, even when a call is not being made.

The revelations of massive police access of cell phone records follow a report last week, based on documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency collects 5 billion records every day on cell phone users around the world, including many Americans. (See “US tracks billions of cell phone location records daily”)

As with the NSA, federal, state and local police agencies generally request and receive the cell phone information without obtaining a warrant—a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

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