Franken turns up heat on Holder, wants info on cell phone tracking

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wants the Justice Department to hand over any information it might have about law enforcement agencies getting their hands on location data from cell phone companies.

Earlier in the year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case, United States v. Jones, that law enforcement agencies needed to first obtain warrants before using GPS devices to track people. In that case, the justices said law enforcement could not install tracking devices without a warrant, because that fell into the definition of a “search.”

But in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Franken pointed to recent news reports suggesting that state and local law enforcement agencies “may be working around the protections” set down by the courts.

“I am eager to learn about how frequently the Department requests location information and what legal standard the Department believes it must meet to obtain it,” he wrote. Franken’s position seemingly puts him at odds with the Obama administration — as well as law enforcement agencies — which have taken a harder line on using location data to track people. Before the recent Supreme Court ruling, the DOJ told a federal appeals court that the FBI as well as other police agencies don’t need to obtain a search warrant to find out the locations of Americans’ cell phones.

In his letter to Holder, Franken asked for the following:

  • How many requests for location information has the Department of Justice filed with wireless carriers in each of the past five calendar years and from January to April of this year? How many individuals’ location information was asked for in these requests?
  • How many of these requests were complied with partially or entirely? How many individuals’ location information did the Department receive as a result of these requests?
  • What historical and prospective (i.e. real-time) location information do you request from wireless carriers (e.g., cell site data, GPS data)?
  • What legal standard does the Department of Justice believe applies to a request for historical location data (e.g., subpoena, court order, warrant, etc.)?
  • Is this standard different or the same for prospective data?
  • Is the standard different or the same for GPS data as opposed to cell-site data?
  • Have these standards changed since the Jones decision? If so, how?
  • Have any of the Department’s practices with respect to location information requests from wireless carriers changed since the Jones decision?
  • How much money has the Department of Justice paid wireless carriers to offset expenses for their retrieval of this data in each of the past five years and from January to April of this year?

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