Do you believe that the Police or any law enforcement agency should be allowed location data for people “near” a crime scene?

WRAL, a local NBC affiliate, is reporting on a warrant asking for data from cell phones from all people located within the area of a particular crime scene.  They are not just asking for potential suspects but all people.

What are your thoughts about that?

Obviously the request is generating great concerns among Fourth Amendment advocates due to the fact that it appears to be asking for unreasonable searches on people who happen to be close to that crime scene at the time of the crime.

The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Raleigh, North Carolina police have requested user data from Google for anyone within a 17-acre area around the crime scene, at the time the crime was committed.

The crime in question occurred on June 1, 2015 when a man by the name of Adrian Pugh was shot and killed near his home.  The police have determined that someone saw a “figure illuminate the ground with a cell phone flashlight before fleeing the scene”.

I certainly understand the police wanting such data but does this request go too far?

A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project was quoted in the article stating:

From an average smartphone user's perspective, it's a little surprising once you start to learn the full scope of information about our locations and whereabouts and activities that companies like Google hold

We have been told in the past that Users can switch location tracking off to prevent your device from pinging GPS satellites, effectively stopping the location tracking of you via your device. We have since learned that if your device is on a cellular network or connected to Wi-Fi, that device is still transmitting its coordinates to third parties, even if they're far less accurate than GPS.

We have also learned that from the business and technology news site Quartz that Google continued to track devices even when all GPS, Wi-Fi and cell networks were supposedly disabled. Google has since stated that they have updated their software to stop that tracking.  Really, how did they not know this before Quartz alerted the public and can we now trust them that some other way of tracking us has just slipped their minds?

The police and other law enforcement agencies make frequent use of cellular network data to their build cases, but that data comes from a warrant on a specific person not everyone in a certain location at a certain time.

In the article the Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said:

We certainly, for a number of years, have seen cell phone data specific to an individual that might be used in a case to try to build part of a story…It's one piece in a larger story and one investigative tool of many.

The real question is whether a law enforcement agency can request such a large amount of location of data on people who may have nothing to do with a crime but just happened to be in the area when a crime was committed.

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