A bill is currently being considered by the Connecticut General Assembly that would raise the standard of evidence to allow law enforcement to track cell phones, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLUCT) Communications Director Patrick Gallahue.
The current law, Connecticut General Statute 54-47, requires reasonable, articulable suspicion for a judge to grant ex parte orders.
These orders allow police to obtain data from service providers, including the ownership of phone numbers, the list of numbers that called or received a call from a particular number, the duration and location of calls.
For example, if someone is in the vicinity of a robbery, the police can access data from their phone, even if they are not directly involved in the crime.
A judge’s signature and a notification from the police informing someone that their information is being collected are required for an order to be granted. However, according to an annual report done by the Chief State Attorney, of the 13,516 ex parte orders granted since the passage of 54-47 in 2005, none were rejected and only 4,065 were delayed.
The ACLUCT says that the reason so few orders have been delayed is the low standard that has been set. The new bill, S.B. 1092, would require police to show probable cause, instead of reasonable suspicion, in order to gain an ex parte order. The bill also prohibits police from storing the data for longer than 14 days.
According to the ACLUCT, this protects the public from “intrusions into their privacy” and is “especially appropriate to regulate the use of surveillance technology by government.”
Both the ACLUCT and the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Associations (CCDLA) testified in favor of the new bill before the Judiciary Committee on March 20. They claimed that thousands of Connecticut residents have had their fourth amendment rights violated by having their cell phones tracked without a warrant.
The CCDLA acknowledged that although data stored on cell phones and online is a powerful tool for law enforcement, there needs to be a balance between security and privacy.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) also submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee. The CPCA urged the committee “to take no action on this proposal,” because the current law adequately balances privacy concerns and the need to intervene in matters of public safety.