ACLU Submits Testimony Today For House Subcommittee Hearing On Cell Phone Privacy

WASHINGTON—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2010. The American Civil Liberties today submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for a hearing on updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the need for reform in the use of location tracking information. ECPA became law in 1986 and has not been properly updated to reflect the vast technological advances that have occurred since its passage, including the use of cell phone information by law enforcement to track Americans’ movements. The ACLU is asking Congress to require government officials to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before allowing access to any of those electronic records, just as they have always had to do for similarly sensitive personal information.

“Tracking our citizens’ locations and movements without warrants or probable cause constitutes a massive privacy violation,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The overwhelming majority of Americans carry cell phones and inadvertently transmit their location information every minute of every day. Whether they visit a therapist, liquor store, church or gun range, these movements are often available to law enforcement in real time or even months later. Clearly, these kinds of sensitive records should be fiercely protected and law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant before getting near them.”

The ACLU noted in its testimony that law enforcement has been obtaining location information since at least the late 1990s, but more than a decade later there is still no uniform standard for when law enforcement can access this information. Because Congress has never addressed the appropriate standard for location information and because of particular practices by the Department of Justice (DOJ), confusion remains regarding what the appropriate standard should be. The position of the DOJ is that enormous amounts of location information should be accessible without it having to obtain a warrant and show probable cause.

“Our government continues to obtain its citizens very private and sensitive information with the lowest of legal standards and little to no oversight,” said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “In addition to all their benefits, cell phones are also portable tracking devices. Americans shouldn’t have to accept constant surveillance in order to enjoy the benefits of mobile services. It is time for Congress to act. It must amendment the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to bring this intrusive surveillance back in line with the Fourth Amendment.”

Last week, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging a Connecticut court to suppress cell site information that the government had obtained against the defendant, Luis Soto, without a warrant. In that case the government sought tracking information not only on Soto but also on approximately 180 other people.

The brief can be found here:
www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/us-v-soto-amici-brief-support-motion-suppress

The ACLU’s statement for the record submitted to the subcommittee is here:
www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/comments-submitted-ecpa-reform-hearing

More information on the ACLU’s work with online privacy can be found at: www.dotrights.org and www.aclu.org/ecpa.

Source: aclu.org