The American Civil Liberties Union’s California affiliates sent a letter to more than 50 law enforcement agencies across the state today demanding to know when, why and how police are using mobile phone location data and deploying other surveillance technology to track people.
In the greater Bay Area, the ACLU’s Public Records Act requests went to the police departments in Oakland, San Jose, Fremont, Richmond, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Rafael, Novato, Manteca and Stockton, as well as to the Marin and Solano sheriffs.
It’s part of a national ACLU initiative based on revelations that Sprint received over 8 million demands in 13 months for location information; Michigan police sought information about every mobile phone near the site of a planned labor protest; researchers disclosed this spring that iPhones collect and store location data; and the National Security Agency’s general counsel last week suggested to members of Congress that the agency might have authority to collect location information on American citizens inside the U.S.
In addition to collection of mobile phone location data, the ACLU is asking the same questions about police use of information gathered from social networking sites, book providers, GPS tracking devices, automatic license plate readers, public video surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology.
“Unless we require transparency on the part of police agencies, powerful new methods of surveillance will become powerful new methods of invading our privacy,” Northern California ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said in a news release.
The letter asks police agencies to cough up statistics on how agencies are obtaining, using, storing and sharing personal information; the stated purpose for gathering personal information, guidelines on how long the data is kept, when and how it is deleted, and whether privacy safeguards exist; training materials, policies or protocols provided to officers to guide them in the use of these tools; whether police demonstrate probable cause and get a warrant to access mobile phone location data and to collect other detailed personal information; and data on the effectiveness of the use of digital surveillance in identifying or arresting suspects.