November 09, 2011, 1:52 PM — One more reason to invest in aluminum-foil hats:
Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies use GPS data from cell phones to monitor the movements of thousands of Americans every year – almost always with no judicial oversight or requirement that they explain why such a blatant invasion of privacy could be justified, according to a survey published this morning in the Wall Street Journal.
Most people would consider that a blatant invasion of privacy and violation of the same Fourth Amendment protections against tearing up your house to search for "evidence" without explaining to a judge first what they expect to find and what evidence they have that you're guilty at all. They'd be right, usually.
Gaping holes that developed in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 as technology outstripped the assumptions lawmakers used in writing the law leave what many law-enforcement agencies treat as a free pass.
Telephone or email records left on a public server – like those at mail.google.com – are legally considered abandoned if they've been there longer than six months, even if you're still using the account.
How could my Gmail account "abandoned?"
Police are allowed to requisition and search records "abandoned" by a suspect the same way they would be allowed to search trash bags you put out by the curb – all without a warrant.
Telephone usage and location records should also be protected. It should also be illegal for police to attach GPS tracking devices to the cars of people they want to track, but aren't suspicious enough to get a warrant to do it.
It may be, but not explicitly enough to enforce without some clarification.
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard the case of Antoine Jones, a Washington, D.C. nightclub owner who was convicted on a drug charge partially based on evidence from a GPS unit police secretly attached to his wife's car for a month.