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San Diego ACLU Asks Police About Cellphone Tracking

The group says it is trying to figure out whether new surveillance technologies are trampling on rights without making people safer.

San Diego’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter wants to know if local police agencies are using cellphones to follow peoples’ movements.

Cellphone location data can track a person’s whereabouts 24 hours a day.

ACLU legal director David Blair-Loy said the organization sent letters containing a slew of questions to 13 regional police departments about cellphone surveillance practices.

“Are they tracking people by cellphones?" asked Blair-Loy. "If so, what are their procedures for doing this? What’s their training? What’s the policy? How long do they keep the data? How do they use the records? What legal standard or level of suspicion do they require or need to justify doing this?”

Seth Stodder, a counterterrorism law professor at the University of Southern California, said that last question is likely to be answered by the Supreme Court in an upcoming case about whether the government can place GPS devices on suspects’ vehicles without a court warrant. So far, lower courts have ruled in favor of the government.

“The courts have generally not viewed this as a Fourth Amendment issue in terms of having a reasonable expectation of privacy," Stodder said. "I think that kind of surprises people because I think people have an innate sense of 'Big Brother shouldn’t be watching me wherever I go,’ but the courts have generally disagreed with that kind of instinct and we’ll see what the Supreme Court says in the U.S. versus Jones case.”

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