Last year, a congressional inquiry revealed that the major wireless carriers received more than 1.3 million requests for subscriber data from law enforcement in 2011 alone. This revelation disgruntled privacy and civil liberties groups nationwide, and it’s possible that legislators in other states may follow Hughes and Hinojosa’s lead in proposing that warrants be required before accessing location data. It’s unclear, of course, whether the bill will eventually become law, as police in the state can be expected to lobby aggressively against it. But it’s certainly likely to receive some strong backing if a separate Texas bill seeking to regulate drone use is anything to go by. HB912, described as “the toughest anti-drone legislation in the country,” was filed in the state house in early February and has bipartisan backing from more than 100 representatives.
A landmark Supreme Court case in January last year ruled that tracking someone by sticking a GPS on his vehicle should be protected by the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unwarranted searches and seizures. The DOJ claims that cellphone location data is a different issue—arguing in a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals case last year that because cellphone records showing location are held by telecom companies, they are "third-party records" and therefore “customers have no protected privacy interest in historical cell-site records.”
I'm delighted to see the legislation getting some national press. Now we need to get the thing passed!The DOJ will no doubt be watching developments in Texas closely—hoping that a backlash against warrantless tracking in the state is not the start of a trend.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- First MSM coverage of push to require warrants for GPS tracking by law enforcement
- Regulate GPS tracking of cell phones, electronic devices by law enforcement
- Bill filed to require warrant for GPS tracking of cell phones
- 101 Texas House members endorse bill criminalizing warrantless drone photography
- Half of law enforcement requests for personal cell phone data require only a subpoena
- Cell phone tracking by government: How it's done
- On the Fourth Amendment implications of location tracking
- Video, resources from location tracking conference