Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Cell Phone Surveillance on the Rise
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was enacted in 1986, long before the smart phone, and has not been an updated to give guidance to law enforcement of what's legal and what's not. The Supreme Court did rule law enforcement could not attach a GPS tracking device to a vehicle without a warrant but that ruling was so narrow that it didn't specifically deal with cell phones that have GPS capabilities. We know what happens when you don't deal with specifics.
In 2011, law enforcement agencies made more than 1.3 million requests for consumer cell phone records. It didn't take long for law enforcement to find a gray area between privacy and consumer protection.
A couple of years ago,my sister was complaining to her daughter because she had to go buy a new cell phone she had lost at the church's yard sale. My sister had an inexpensive phone with just a few contacts in it, but that didn't stop my niece from telling her husband, who's a Texas City policeman about the situation. While off duty, my niece's husband had called Verizon for a GPS location, which he received. To make a long story short, the person in possession of the phone, said that she had found it and was trying to find its owner. My niece's husband was wrong in so many ways because he didn't ask my sister's permission nor was he on duty. It's not a big deal but laws should be in place to prevent the misinterpretation of the law.
My carrier, AT&T, has a team of more than 100 workers who handle the requests pouring in from local state and Federal law enforcement agencies. Carriers say that the demand is so large as that they had to start charging law enforcement $25.00 to locate a cell phone using GPS, $25.00 to retrieve a user's text messages and $50.00 for a "cell tower dump." That" cell tower dump" could include your messages and phone calls without your knowledge and permission.
Representative Ed Markey-D-Mass. Said his investigation into the matter revealed two inappropriate requests from law enforcement and one from someone impersonating a police officer. To their credit, most carriers require a warrant but some comply with a subpoena that is not signed off by a judge.
There has to be exceptions for emergencies, and at times we have to leave it to the discretion of a 911 call center, as to whether there's an immediate threat to someone's life. Think about that, if it were your loved, one would you want to sit and wait for all the subpoenas and warrants to be signed before first responders can take action?
I remember being excited because the new Windows 7 was going to be equipped with GPS software that would be able to track your lost computer until a friend reminded me that it could also track you. The civil libertarians put enough pressure on Microsoft to get them to allow users to disable that feature.
Like many of us I don’t have anything to hide but I want to be treated with the respect every law abiding citizen should have. I don’t want to hinder law enforcement but I don’t want to give them unlimited, unchecked power either.
I remember the day I was first hired in the old timer took me back to the break room and said, “this is our coffee kitty; we have a lock on it to keep honest people honest." Don't you think it's time for parties involved to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, if for nothing else to "keep honest people honest?"