Phone tracking rules: Justice Department Cellphone Tracking

Published: September 4, 2015

Phone tracking rules: Justice Department Cellphone Tracking, Some federal agencies’ use of devices that track cellphone locations will now be restricted to cases where officers have obtained a search warrant, according to a policy released by the US Justice Department on Thursday.

Until now, agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been able to use so-called cell-site simulators without applying for a warrant or outlining a probable cause.

Cell-site simulators replicate cell towers to pick up location-identifying information that allow law enforcement to apprehend fugitives, conduct narcotic investigations or rescue a kidnapped child, the Justice Department said.

But the new guidance pointed out they must be used in accordance with the “protections of the constitution”.

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates at least 53 agencies across 21 states use cell-site simulators, but the number could be much higher because many keep their purchasing of the devices a secret.

The devices also pick up information on bystanders near the person being tracked, according to the ACLU.

The new regulations come during a debate over privacy versus security that was spurred by disclosures from fugitive former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 that the United States collected Americans’ cellphone data without warrants.

There will be exceptions that will allow federal agencies to use cell-site simulators without obtaining a warrant, such as in “exigent circumstances”, the guidelines said.

State and local agencies will have to comply with the new rules only in cases they are investigating in tandem with federal agencies, the Justice Department said.

Other rules introduced on Thursday include training personnel to use the equipment appropriately and mandatory supervision.


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