Senator Questions DOJ on GPS-Tracking Requests to Carriers

U.S. Senator Al Franken has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing concerns that authorities were circumventing a court ruling by getting GPS location data from wireless carriers without a warrant.

A U.S. senator is requesting that the Department of Justice hand over information about how it goes about requesting location data from wireless carriers.

In a letter, Sen. Al Franken, (D-Minn.), expressed concern about media reports that law-enforcement agencies are €œworking around the protections€ of the law in order to get records of location information from wireless carriers as opposed to placing GPS locators on individual vehicles. Franken wrote that he was particularly concerned that authorities were obtaining these records without first getting a warrant.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the use of GPS devices to track individuals constituted a search, which mandated that law-enforcement authorities obtain a court-approved warrant. In that case, the court found that the GPS tracking of a vehicle belonging to suspected drug dealer Antoine Jones was not legal.

€œI am writing to ask you about the Department of Justice's own practices in requesting location information from wireless carriers,€ Franken wrote. €œI am eager to learn about how frequently the Department requests location information and what legal standard the Department believes it must meet to obtain it. I would also like to know how the Department may have changed these practices since the Jones decision.€

Last week, Congressman Edward J. Markey, (D-Mass.), sent a letter of his own to several wireless carriers€”including Sprint Nextel, Verizon and AT&T€”requesting information about their policies regarding sharing customer information with law enforcement. Among other questions, he asked the carriers if they considered whether or not the police had obtained a warrant before fulfilling their requests.

€œInformation gleaned from mobile phone use should be accessible for appropriate law-enforcement purposes,€ Markey said in a statement.

€œStill, disclosure of this personal information raises important legal and privacy concerns, particularly in the absence of consumer knowledge or consent or judicial oversight. We need more information about current wireless carrier practices in this area, including how firms may be profiting from consumers€™ personal data, and I look forward to the responses from the wireless carriers,€ Markey€™s statement said.

€œIt is startling how even such basic information isn€™t available,€ blogged Chris Calabrese, of the Washington Legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). €œRemember that our FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] revealed that this is an extraordinarily common law-enforcement practice, with only 10 of 190 police departments we surveyed saying they did not track cell phones. DOJ has been employing cell tracking for more than a decade. Letters like these are the first step in oversight.€