Feds Routinely Seek Cell Phone Tracking Data

November 27th, 2007 - 3:20 am ICT by admin  

Most people are oblivious to the fact that they carry a real-time tracking device with them throughout the day: their cell phone. Now the Washington Post is reporting that federal agents are routinely requesting court orders to compel cell phone companies to release the information to them.

In many cases, Post reporter Ellen Nakashima said, the court orders the release of the information without the legal safeguards typically required for a search warrant. But now some courts are taking a closer look at the requests for tracking information.

In a brief telephone interview, Justice Department spokesperson Dean Boyd stressed that federal agents are not illicitly obtaining cell phone data. “Federal agents can only obtain data when it’s authorized by a judge,” Boyd said. “It’s the courts that make the determination as to whether the requested data should be released.”

Vague and Inconsistent Standards

Following the publication of the Washington Post article, Boyd issued a lengthy statement defending the actions of federal agents. “Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens,” Boyd said in the statement. “What we’re doing is going through the courts to lawfully obtain data that will help us locate criminal suspects, sometimes in cases where lives are literally hanging in the balance, such as a child abduction case or a serial murderer on the loose.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, governmental agents are typically required to show that their warrant request is based on “probable cause” that a crime is taking place, or that the requested information will help produce evidence of a crime.

But in some instances, federal prosecutors and agents have filed their requests under two federal laws, the Stored Communications Act and the Pen Register Statute, which provide a lower standard than “probable cause.” Under those statutes, a subpoena for electronic information can be granted if…

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