The nation's largest wireless providers oppose a proposed California location privacy law that would require police to obtain search warrants to track a wireless customer's whereabouts, CNET has learned.
They're criticizing a new state bill, S.B. 1434, that would require a judge to approve requests for location tracking except in certain emergency situations. S.B. 1434 would also require wireless providers to divulge "the number of times location information has been disclosed," and how many times they rejected police requests.
Their criticism comes as concerns about warrantless location surveillance, a practice that the Obama administration and law enforcement agencies have defended, are growing. Federal legislation introduced last year would require police to obtain a warrant signed by a judge before monitoring someone's movements, and courts have split over whether warrantless tracking is constitutional or not.
Requiring a warrant to track California residents would "create greater confusion for wireless providers when responding to legitimate law enforcement requests," says the letter (PDF) written byCTIA, a wireless trade association that counts AT&T, Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular, and Sprint Nextel among its board members. CTIA sent the letter to bill sponsor Mark Leno, a Democratic state senator whose district includes the city of San Francisco. CTIA also opposes the reporting requirements of S.B. 1434, saying they would "unduly burden wireless providers and their employees, who are working day and night to assist law enforcement to ensure the public's safety and to save lives."
Last year, the governor vetoed
legislation requiring police to obtain a court warrant to search the mobile
phones of suspects at the time of any arrest. The veto means that when police
arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone —
which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call
records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and
even where the phone has traveled.
The practice of getting such data from phone companies without warrants is also
embraced by the Obama administration, which maintains Americans
have no expectation of privacy of such cell-site records because they are
“in the possession of a third party” — the mobile phone companies.
"Wireless companies should be working day and night for us, their customers, not law enforcement," replies Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.
If Americans aren’t disturbed by phone carriers’ practices of handing over cell
phone users’ personal data to law enforcement en masse–in many cases without a
warrant–we might at least be interested to learn just how much that service is
costing us in tax dollars: often hundreds or thousands per individual snooped.
Declan McCullagh notes in his coverage
of the story for CNET, "by advancing this argument, CTIA risks creating the perception that its
member companies are happy to open their databases of customers' GPS coordinates
to law enforcement -- just so long as nobody knows about it."
McCullagh also notes that wireless carriers receive significant fees for giving
their customers’ data to law enforcement. What it looks like is that the
wireless carriers want to continue betraying some customers (mobile phone users)
to please others (law enforcement), and continue raking in money from both.
The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry:
ACLU filed an Amicus Brief in United States v. Pineda-Moreno: