Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cellphones the new warrantless search?

Cell phones have become never ending, yet always changing technological breakthrough that keeps many people connected, allows us to keep in touch, text message, take pictures, and many cell phones today have a mandatory internet that must be purchased to continue use. These devices keep us sane in those long drawn out lectures by providing FaceBook, billions of apps for fun and many more, but have you ever wondered what damages can be done by "checking into" a location via FaceBook, or signing into Foursquare? The truth is pretty scary. It allows a GPS tracking of you and pretty much all activity you have been up to. But the worst part is yet to come.

With these cell phones letting us do pretty much anything we ask it, many law enforcement agencies have utilized this idea to track many suspected people, possible terrorists, previously released inmates, and even you. According to an article marketwach.com many law enforcement agencies are utilizing this sort of warrantless search to keep its eyes and ears open, and as a tool to stray away from the often difficult at times hassle of getting a court ordered warrant.

Doesn't this violate our Fourth Amendment right of protection from an unreasonable search? Well the answer is sort of iffy. This past January the U.S Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Jones 2012 that legal authorities overstepped their boundaries by placing a GPS on a person’s car without a warrant, which ultimately violates your right to be protected from an unreasonable search or seizure. Does the use of information and global positioning from your cell phone carrier cross the same boundary? According to the article the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) did a study and of 380 police departments nationwide that only 10% of the agencies didn't use the information to track criminal, suspects, or whomever. That’s over 200 agencies that jumped on the idea to get a type of warrantless search. Now many carries like ATT and Sprint will often release any message, text, or phone call to police with a warrant, some will even sell the information to them for large sums of money.  "The rationale, of course, is to ferret out criminals and terrorists by seeing where they go, to whom they talk and what they’re texting — without the sometimes time-consuming process of securing a warrant first" respondent from the Oklahoma City Police Department, one department that has yet to bother utilizing this data.

The problem I know have after reading about this crazy thing is my breach of privacy. Because according to the same study done by the ACLU, many departments also tracked whole communities by "tower dumping" or scanning the information from people’s cell phones by a nearby tower. Apparently many agencies have the ability to take in the radio waves from the towers and siphon through hundreds of thousands of people just living near one cell tower. This is a phenomenal ideal, but seems very unconstitutional. On one hand I see the benefits of it, say trying to find a missing child, or trying to find a person who is ready to commit suicide, terrorism plans, and plain old ordinary crime prevention, but on the side is civilian privacy. We as consumers are giving up too much information and freedom too fast to have these so called smart phones. The only way to combat this is to either turn your phone off or airplane mode. 

If these law enforcement agencies have this ability which as mentioned is currently constitutional, then what happens during a traffic stop? Can an officer take your phone and look through it? Does he/she have the authority to ask for the phone that had nothing to do with your speeding or littering citation? What if it is password protected? Is that enough to argue against? The question is still in the air. Is there an ethical dilemma here? Are we giving up our constitutional freedoms when new technology hits the streets? Because any person has the ability to buy a cell phone, does this make it alright for authorities to utilize the information that these carriers receive? 
What do you think? Does this make another U.S Supreme Court case or another fall for Due Process and another win for crime control? Write what you think!!!


  1. I can't believe that the Supreme Court would allow agencies to utilize technology in such a manner. This seems very intrusive and unbelievable that our lives can be watched by any police or federal agencies at any time. Though I am sure police are not watching ISU students, it doesn't seem right to know that there is even the option for them do so if they pleased.

  2. This is very disturbing to think about. We have all signed ourselves away in the contracts with these cell phone carriers, though, and they can give away our private conversations and track us. I really have no problem with it, even though it seems like a privacy violation, because I'm not a criminal.

  3. I know people are getting huffy with these policies, but people have also been huffy for years about all the crime happening in our world.I think people should look at it as a positive thing that our police are trying new and improved things in order to bring order and safety to our communities. Police are not doing these things just because they are nosey; they do it for a reason, which is to protect their citizens.If you are not a criminal then you've nothing to worry about when it comes to these practices. I appreciate what they are doing, maybe this will help reduce crime rates, and then I will be surprised to see how many people complain about this.