Bills are bring introduced in the Texas House and Senate which some experts describe as the “most sweeping” privacy bills to date. They would require law enforcement to get a warrant before collecting location data from a person’s phone, according to this article. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled in United States V. Jones that a warrant is required before placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car. This ruling, however, did not stop police from regularly using a suspect’s own cell phone to gather location information from a phone’s GPS and tower data. The Texas bills would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before collecting the location data of a suspect or person of interest.
Under current federal case law and statute, law enforcement generally has broad warrantless powers to not only track suspects in real-time based on their phone data, but also to access records of where and when calls were made or text messages were sent or received—and all of this is provided by the carriers.
The Texas bill, if passed, will also require wireless carriers to report how often law enforcement requests data, and what data is disclosed to law enforcement by the cell company. The ACLU says that 11 states are considering similar legislation that has the possibility of shaping future federal laws regarding law enforcement collection of mobile data.
Hopefully the Texas bill will pass and set a precedent that law enforcement must follow due process. Just because we have new technology, does not mean our rights are null and void. We still have the right to be secure in our persons, papers, houses and effects against unreasonable search and seizure. The fact that some of our information is now located on our phones, computers, or at the cell phone company does not give law enforcement the right to review that data without a warrant. If any individual’s actions are being scrutinized by the government, it should be because of a criminal investigation, and requiring warrants keeps law enforcement honest. The Texas bills will help strengthen individual rights, and are a positive step forward in the fight for privacy from the government.