Noted privacy advocate Senator Al Franken is pressing the US Department of Justice on law enforcement's widespread use of warrantless GPS tracking through suspects' cellphones. In an open letter, Franken pointed to United States v. Jones, a recent case that ruled law enforcement could not install tracking devices without a warrant, since they constituted a "search." "I was very concerned to read recent reports suggesting that state and local law enforcement agencies may be working around the protections of Jones by requesting the location records of individuals directly from their wireless carriers," Franken wrote. "I was further concerned to learn that in many cases, these agencies appear to be obtaining precise records of individuals' past and current movements from carriers without first obtaining a warrant for this information [italics in original]."
Franken is requesting that the DoJ provide information on its own location tracking policies by June 11th, including how many requests it has made to carriers, what legal standard applies, and how much it has paid carriers for the information in the past five years. Franken says he is "eager to learn" whether the department has changed its practices since Jones.
As we've written before, Jones may have forced the FBI to turn off some tracking devices, but it's hardly a definitive decision on privacy. It focuses more specifically on installing the tracker, and the third-party doctrine allows the government to request information that you have "willingly" given to a company. Earlier this week, the DoJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General claimed that requiring a warrant for cell tower tracking would "cripple national security investigations."