ACLU Demands Data on Mobile-Phone Surveillance From Five Orange County Police Agencies

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Big Brother is not only watching you, he can answer in the affirmative, "Can you hear me now?"

The American Civil Liberties Union would like to know how much he's listenening, and by "he," I mean "your local cop shop."

The Communist Par . . . er, ACLU of California announced today that demands were sent to 50 law enforcement agencies across the state today to reveal "when, why, and how police are using mobile phone location data and deploying other surveillance technologies to track the people they are responsible for protecting and serving."

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Among them, according to this ACLU page listing agencies served requests: Huntington Beach Police Department, Irvine Police Department, Long Beach Police Department, Orange County Sheriff's Department, Orange Police Department, Santa Ana Police Department and the California Highway Patrol.

"The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their personal information is being accessed by the government," explains Peter Bibring, a staff attorney with the ACLU of California, in a statement from the LA office. "A detailed history of someone's movements--or the email and photographs stored in their mobile device--is extremely personal and exactly the kind of private information that the Fourth Amendment was written to protect."

This is not just a Golden State request but part of public right-to-know inquiries being filed in coordination with 33 American Civil Liberties Union affiliates across the nation. Besides the collection of mobile phone location data, law enforcements' use of information gathered from social networking sites, book providers, GPS tracking devices, automatic license plate readers, public video surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology is being sought under the request.

According to the ACLU statement:

Police agencies are being asked for information including:

  • Statistics on how agencies are obtaining, using, storing and sharing personal information;
  • The stated purpose for gathering personal information, guidelines on how long the data is kept, when and how it is deleted, and whether privacy safeguards exist;
  • Training curricula, policies or protocol provided to officers to guide them in the use of these powerful new surveillance tools, including the capture of information from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter;
  • Whether police demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access mobile phone location data and to collect other detailed personal information, or take a dragnet approach that captures data on individuals who are not suspected of wrongdoing;
  • The effectiveness of the use of digital surveillance in identifying or arresting suspects.

Privacy should be a top concern among mobile phone users for these reasons, the ACLU says:

  • In just a 13-month period, Sprint received over 8 million demands for location information;  
  • Michigan police sought information about every mobile phone near the site of a planned labor protest;
  • This spring, researchers revealed that iPhones were collecting and storing location information;  
  • Just last week, the general counsel of the National Security Agency suggested to members of Congress that the NSA might have the authority to collect the location information of American citizens inside the U.S.

The civil rights group says it is important for Americans to understand how police are using new surveillance technologies as Congress considers new legislation to better safeguard location information and the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to hear a case about the privacy of location data in the context of GPS tracking devices.


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