Who's tracking your mobile phone?

Laurie Temple
Laurie Temple
Maj. Rich Robinson
Maj. Rich Robinson

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's not the tracking of criminals but of the Average Joe that the American Civil Liberties union is concerned about. The ACLU has launched a nationwide campaign to see how law enforcement is collecting and using data obtained with cell phone tracking technology. The ACLU is calling it one of the nation's largest information act requests in U.S. history.

"Our electronic privacy act hasn't been updated since 1986," says ACLU Hawaii attorney, Laurie Temple. The organization says privacy laws haven't kept pace with technology and wants to know if, when, why, and how public safety officials are tracking our cell phone locations.

"If you are at a park, at a church, at a restaurant, the government can potentially know where you are, who you're with, when you were there," says Temple. She adds that authorities can potentially use past mobile phone records, as well as real-time tracking.

The ACLU Hawaii wants procedural information from six local agencies: the Honolulu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai county police departments, the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

HPD says our state has some of the most protective privacy laws in the nation - and that includes mobile phones. Maj. Rich Robinson, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, explains "To get any personal information requires a court order which is based on probable cause. So, this is no different from your house. We can't enter your house without a court order. We can't enter your phone without a court order."

HPD says it has used past cell phone records, without warrants, to locate missing persons but never for criminal suspects. To get those phone records, police have to go through legal channels. "I assure you, it's not an everyday thing," says Robinson. "It requires a court order. To get that kind of information requires a court order, requires going before a judge. It's not something that's just done everyday."

ACLU Hawaii says, once it receives a response from various authorities, it will develop a strategy on how to proceed from there to ensure citizens rights continue to be protected. None of the law enforcement agencies has yet to receive the ACLU requests yet - since they just went out today.

The ACLU says the fourth amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures but urges lawmakers to craft specific legislation for electronic protections. Temple adds, "We want to make sure that the way that they are getting the data, as well as the way that they are using the data, complies with that constitutional amendment."

Mobile phone users have lots of opinions on the matter. "How are (authorities) tracking them? You know, how can you control that? There should be some legislation passed to put control on it," says Kailua resident Lui Inblue.

Mililani resident Norman Harding says, "If somebody is breaking the law and law enforcement has to utilize the ability to track somebody, then by all means, do it. But there has to be some regulations."

It's an issue that promises to continue - with more than 300 MILLION U.S. wireless subscriber accounts - and counting.

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