The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

ACLU Submits Testimony Today for House Subcommittee Hearing on Cell Phone Privacy


The American
Civil Liberties today submitted written testimony to the House
Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties for a hearing on updating the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act (ECPA) and the need for reform in the use of location
tracking information. ECPA became law in 1986 and has not been properly
updated to reflect the vast technological advances that have occurred
since its passage, including the use of cell phone information by law
enforcement to track Americans' movements. The ACLU is asking Congress
to require government officials to obtain a warrant based on probable
cause before allowing access to any of those electronic records, just as
they have always had to do for similarly sensitive personal

"Tracking our citizens' locations and movements without warrants or
probable cause constitutes a massive privacy violation," said Laura W.
Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The
overwhelming majority of Americans carry cell phones and inadvertently
transmit their location information every minute of every day. Whether
they visit a therapist, liquor store, church or gun range, these
movements are often available to law enforcement in real time or even
months later. Clearly, these kinds of sensitive records should be
fiercely protected and law enforcement should be required to obtain a
warrant before getting near them."

The ACLU noted in its testimony that law enforcement has been obtaining
location information since at least the late 1990s, but more than a
decade later there is still no uniform standard for when law enforcement
can access this information. Because Congress has never addressed the
appropriate standard for location information and because of particular
practices by the Department of Justice (DOJ), confusion remains
regarding what the appropriate standard should be. The position of the
DOJ is that enormous amounts of location information should be
accessible without it having to obtain a warrant and show probable

"Our government continues to obtain its citizens very private and
sensitive information with the lowest of legal standards and little to
no oversight," said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "In
addition to all their benefits, cell phones are also portable tracking
devices. Americans shouldn't have to accept constant surveillance in
order to enjoy the benefits of mobile services. It is time for Congress
to act. It must amendment the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to
bring this intrusive surveillance back in line with the Fourth

Last week, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a
friend-of-the-court brief urging a Connecticut court to suppress cell
site information that the government had obtained against the defendant,
Luis Soto, without a warrant. In that case the government sought
tracking information not only on Soto but also on approximately 180
other people.
The brief
can be found here:

The ACLU's statement for the record submitted to the subcommittee is

More information on the
ACLU's work with online privacy can be found at: and

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666