Law enforcement tracking of cellphones has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police, with hundreds of departments large and small using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, the New York Times reports. Cellphone companies are marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts, or provide other services.
Some departments log dozens of traces a month for emergencies and routine investigations. Police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls, and investigations in drug cases and murders. Civil liberties advocates say the wide use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. Many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies. Others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own The American Civil Liberties Union provided the times with 5,500 pages of internal records from 205 police departments nationwide.