Civil liberties organizations have recently demanded that law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. disclose exactly how and when they have used cell phone location data to track citizens as part of routine investigations.
The demand is casting light on an issue that should lasso the attention of all Americans. The notion that the government may track any citizen who carries a cell phone without their knowledge or consent is a disturbing breach of our confidence that our right to privacy is secure.
The issue is not, nor should it be, a matter of political ideology. Concern over government tracking by GPS technology has drawn concern from both ends of the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union is at the forefront of the campaign to get law enforcement agencies to fess up at the practice.
At the same time, Utah's conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz is co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill in Congress to set specific guidelines on how so-called "geo-location data" may be accessed and used by governments, businesses and individuals.
The proliferation of sophisticated technology gives urgency to the creation of a framework for regulation. The vast territory of electronic snooping is wide open for abuse, as we have witnessed in Great Britain, where tabloid journalists have hacked into private cell phones.
In Utah, the ACLU has asked six police agencies to disclose information under open records laws on how they have used GPS tracking technology. There are no doubt legitimate law enforcement reasons to access such data, and the ability to do so should remain part of a police agency's arsenal.
But checks and balances are necessary as well. There is a wealth of case law on search and seizure statutes designed to protect citizens against unwarranted intrusion. Such limits should be imposed as well on new technology, which, while boundless, should not be without reasonable boundaries.
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