Nearly everyone carries a cellphone everywhere they go, and these devices record much more than user’s phone calls and text messages. Not surprisingly, cellphone information has become more and more important to police investigations over the years. Many people wonder what data police can gather from cellphone companies and how they do it. Perhaps most importantly, are the methods police use to collect data fair or is cellphone users’ right to privacy being trampled?
Extremely Powerful Surveillance Technology
An in-depth article from The Intercept examines one specific technology that is widely used by police departments throughout the United States, including the Madison Police Department. It’s called Cellhawk, and it’s power and reach may surprise most cellphone users.
Not only can Cellhawk potentially find who cellphone users were communicating with and when, as well as what was said, but this tech can also provide law enforcement agencies with detailed information about the user’s location and movements over some time.
Cellhawk organizes data in a matter of minutes that would have taken days, months or even years using previous investigation methods – if those methods would have been able to successfully gather the data at all. This tech, created by the company Hawk Analytics, analyzes data given by cellphone providers as well as that collected from cell tower dumps – in which it processes huge amounts of data that is collected by a specific cellphone tower to help law enforcement sift through it to find evidence.
But Where Is The Oversight?
Interestingly, law enforcement often does not use a warrant to obtain this information from cellphone providers and tower owners. This is because the information is already being collected by third parties such as telecommunications providers.
The question is not just whether legal standards for information gathering are being met, but whether the legal standards for collecting this kind of information are clear or even fair. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is one organization that has gone on record stating that these legal standards are “murky.” At least one police department that uses Cellhawk has simply set it’s own standards to follow, which is troubling. Essentially, there is little or no oversight on how law enforcement uses this technology. While the technology itself is not necessarily an issue, how it is used may be problematic.
In cases where Cellhawk or similar technology was used to collect information, the evidence may be challenged if it violates the rights of the accused.