While law enforcement organizations across the country may be tracking people using their cellphones, police are finding willing partners in wireless phone companies, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer said on Friday.
Many cellphone companies have created departments and even online portals to help law enforcement request location data on people, often without a warrant, ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said during a taping of C-Span's "The Communicators" on Friday.
She pointed to an ACLU survey of local police agencies released earlier this month that found that some carriers, such as Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile charge law enforcement for the data.
"I think the cell phone companies owe their customers a more clear picture of how the government and potentially others are accessing their data," Crump said.
The information collected and stored by wireless carriers are the real privacy problem, John Jay College professor Dennis Kenney said during the show.
"What I would not want to see is the situation where the police are the only ones who can't have access to the data that is commercially available," he said. "It's a bigger issue than just what your local police department is doing. In fact I think their usage of the data may be the least threatening of the possibilities."
Laws governing the use of GPS location data often differ in different cities or states. The ACLU survey of nearly 200 local police agencies found that almost all use cellphone tracking in some way, often without any kind of court order.