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WASHINGTON – Tracking a criminal’s movements through a cellphone is a valuable tool for police solving serious crimes. But civil liberties advocates say the increasing use of phone tracing tactics raises important legal questions.
It used to be that police needed to show probable cause to get a warrant to track a cellphone. Now some phone carriers are bypassing that, offering police departments, for a surveillance fee, the ability to determine someone’s location or trace his calls and texts.
The New York Times reports police departments across the country are tracking cellphones more extensively than law enforcement officials have acknowledged. The newspaper reviewed documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from police departments across the country.
While the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that putting a GPS device on a suspect’s car is unconstitutional, the ruling doesn’t directly affect cellphones, many of which have GPS.
The ACLU says the nationwide patchwork of standards and practices of tracking cellphones leaves open the possibility of abuse.
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