Clash in US on mobile privacy protection

May 17, 2012
Law enforcement officials and civil liberties advocates clashed Thursday at a US congressional hearing on a proposed law to protect the "location privacy" of people using mobile phones.

Law enforcement officials and civil liberties advocates clashed Thursday at a US congressional hearing on a proposed law to protect the "location privacy" of people using mobile phones.

A House of Representatives panel called the hearing on the Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act, aimed at protecting people from being tracked by through their phones without a search warrant, except in emergencies.

Catherine Crump of the welcomed the proposal and said it would help ensure against "unreasonable" searches.

"Americans' privacy rights are threatened by warrantless access to geolocational information, and history teaches that the executive cannot be counted upon to police itself," she told the committee.

The ACLU maintains that many take advantage of the ambiguity in the law to track people without consent or probable cause of a crime.

"Congress cannot afford to wait any longer to enact a warrant and probable cause requirement for location tracking," she said. "Today Americans' privacy rights are being violated routinely by invasive location tracking, particularly cell phone tracking."

But John Ramsey of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said the law would tie the hands of police when they are investigating crimes or trying to catch criminals.

Joseph Cassilly of the National District Attorneys Association (seated), pictured in 2009, said the law "would hamper law enforcement's ability to quickly obtain important information that could be used to save lives."

"Who are we protecting with this legislation? The innocent or the criminals?" he said.

"Do we really want to slow down the apprehension of murderers and rapists so they can build their trophy wall by increasing the amount of legal documents necessary to gather information?"

Joseph Cassilly of the National District Attorneys Association said the law "would hamper law enforcement's ability to quickly obtain important information that could be used to save lives."

"Because so many cases are time sensitive in nature -- including child abductions, other forms of kidnapping and organized criminal and/or terrorist activities -- enforcement must be able to work these cases without unnecessary administrative delay," Cassilly said.

But Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association backed stronger privacy protection, saying, "To cede to government the unchecked power to track you wherever you are is to lay the cornerstone of the surveillance state."

The US Supreme Court has held that the use of GPS devices placed by police on a suspect's car constitutes an "unreasonable search" under the constitution. But the question of cell phone tracking is still making its way through the courts.

Several members of Congress have introduced bills calling for "location privacy" to be respected by police, except in cases of emergency.

Privacy advocates say real-life police, like the ones on TV, often use phones to track suspects despite the murky legal situation. This could be limited if courts provide clearer rulings or if Congress passes legislation on "location ."

Explore further: Supreme Court to review warrantless GPS tracking (Update)

Related Stories

Technology is trampling privacy rights, experts say

June 30, 2011

They're tools of convenience. Smartphones allow us to make calls, check e-mail, download music, browse the web and take pictures. GPS capabilities tell us where we're going. Facebook lets us reconnect with friends and show ...

GPS court ruling leaves US phone tracking unclear

February 11, 2012

A US Supreme Court decision requiring a warrant to place a GPS device on the car of a criminal suspect leaves unresolved the bigger issue of police tracking using mobile phones, legal experts say.

Canada unveils new cyber monitoring rules

February 14, 2012

Canada's government Tuesday introduced a bill to give law enforcement authorities sweeping powers to probe online communications, but the move sparked criticism about threats to privacy.

3Qs: Mobile tracking in criminal investigations

April 16, 2012

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report revealing that law-enforcement agencies frequently use cell-phone tracking data provided by wireless carriers — often without a warrant. Northeastern ...

Recommended for you

Smallest 3-D camera offers brain surgery innovation

August 28, 2015

To operate on the brain, doctors need to see fine details on a small scale. A tiny camera that could produce 3-D images from inside the brain would help surgeons see more intricacies of the tissue they are handling and lead ...

Schlieren images reveal supersonic shock waves

August 27, 2015

NASA researchers in California are using a modern version of a 150-year-old German photography technique to capture images of shock waves created by supersonic airplanes. Over the past five years scientists from NASA's Armstrong ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 18, 2012
There are solutions, but until we get proper legislation making app developers, have you op in instead of opting out, you will never know what you have downloaded to your mobile device.

Using a SilentPocket allows you to take control of your own privacy when it comes to Smartphone tracking. MIAmobi addresses this issue and many more problems associated with mobile devices. With over 500,000 mobile app developed for smartphones, many of which are stealth and are eavesdropping on your every move. Some are capable of turning on functions on your phone like your mic, camera, GPS, address book and more, even when it has been turned off. There is only one way to stop this if you really want to know for sure that you have control of your mobile device is to block all forms of wifi coming in or going out. Get informed at

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.