Limits on Police Tracking People with Cell Phones

Interesting news:

Federal law enforcement attempts to use cell phones as tracking devices were rebuked twice this month by lower court judges, who say the government cannot get real time tracking information on citizens without showing probable cause.

Posted on October 31, 2005 at 8:09 AM • 17 Comments


Roy OwensOctober 31, 2005 9:56 AM

All this means is that the police have to exercise some restraint in using cell phone tracking.

They could use the tracking without a warrant -- just 'lean on' the cell service providers -- to produce a suspect list, study that list to find their favorite, 'discover' a 'witness' to place their pick in the right place, then use that discovery to get a warrant for the information they already got, and the warrant now allows them to use the information in court.

RvnPhnxOctober 31, 2005 12:18 PM

@Roy Owens
I will agree that it can still be "gotten around" (so to say)--but what you describe is plain and simple not legal.
Any evidence gathered before the issuance of a warrant that would be subject to that warrant and requires a warrant to be submisible in court is categorized as "fruit of a poison tree" and will not be allowed in court.

Roy OwensOctober 31, 2005 2:52 PM


There are a lot of things the police do that are illegal. Torture, for example. Among others are arrests, searches, and seizures without warrant or just cause, fabricating evidence, buying testimony, and falsifying reports.

Illegality means only that the police cannot brag about it openly or use it in court.

Judges care about only what they see in the courtroom or in chambers. Whatever goes on in the outside world is none of their concern. As long as the paperwork looks good, judges are happy.

gregOctober 31, 2005 3:01 PM

@Roy Owens

I think you have been watching too much TV or reading too much *fiction* .

LygerOctober 31, 2005 5:01 PM

@ greg

Don't be so sure. Yes, it sounds paranoid, but it's simply based on the idea that sometimes, the police are more interested in reaching what they believe to be the right conclusion, than following the right process. I, for my part, would be more than tempted to break a few laws to put a murderer away, if I felt it required (or maybe even simply helpful). When I got my private investigator's licence, lo these many years ago (they were remarkably easy to get at the time, anyway) our instructor spent quite a bit of time telling us how to get around various laws, and even how to literally get away with murder (in a specific circumstance).

The outright corrupt cop, who goes around breaking laws bacause he's somehow a lawman with no respect for the law IS, for the most part, a fiction. But the idea that getting the bad guy is more important than doing it right doesn't rise to that level. Remember "innocent until proven guilty" isn't really a tenant of police work. The idea isn't to just round up a bunch of people, and let the prosecutor's office sort 'em out. The police, as I understand it, try to limit their arrests to people they actually feel are verifiably guilty. And I suspect that they're no more interested in the rights of the guilty than the rest of us are.

Jon SowdenOctober 31, 2005 6:42 PM

The difference, in this case, is that the police have to lean on the relevant part of the relevant telco.

So, you need a policeman or dept ready to break the law to get this information, AND a telco/tech-gp-within-said-telco ready to provide it without the requisite paperwork.

Not impossible, but significantly less likely.

another_bruceNovember 1, 2005 7:54 AM

as somebody who has personally witnessed police violate the constitution, i had to laugh when the poster said "that is plain and simple not legal." when there's a way, there's a will. two ways police can circumvent this, 1) develop their own receiver technology to pick up the signal they want, 2) apply for the warrant not to the public courts mentioned in the article, but to the secret security court, a federal court whose members, location and proceedings are secret. there's no way of knowing how many warrants this court has issued, maybe the cops in the story weren't high enough on the food chain to know where it is.

BobNovember 18, 2005 2:38 PM

well im a debater at my high school and i would like to know more about this subject..could some of you possibly post some places i could find information about this? it would help a lot. thanks. if you want, you can email me at

not guiltyMarch 14, 2006 5:07 AM

middlesbrogh police are the most corrupt herion dealers on earth they get sacked then moved to a police station down the road if they are fired then they must not get another job were they have the publics trust

lapoApril 17, 2006 9:41 AM

Well they already listen to our converstations, tap our phones, see what we do on the internet... yea judges are just as crooked as cops... nothing is "illigal" for the people that make it "leagal"... abuse of power thats what its called..

JasonMarch 19, 2007 3:18 PM

I would like to know how easy it is to install this 'spy-ware' on someones cell phone. My girlfriend was recently raped, and the perp has called her on her phone from an unlisted number. I am afraid that he may be able to find her home and repeat the brutal attack and/or hurt her kids.

AFFebruary 28, 2008 6:38 PM

You people are very naive. We got information in discovery documents that the police illegally tapped our cell phones when one person made an unfounded and accusation against us to DCFS. They used the information they got from the tap to sieze the child. The child was perfectly healthy but they took him anyway. If they can tap a cell phone using hearsay and innuendo as the criteria what hope do the rest of you have?

Joe BlowMay 11, 2009 8:13 PM

I used to work at Radio Shack and the police don't have to go through the cell phone company to listen in on a cellular call. They are the only ones with scanners that can pick up cellular calls. See all those little antennae on their cars? Those are the right size for cellular frequencies.

MakeshaNovember 15, 2009 3:04 PM

Can DCFS In Springfield IL. tap your cell phones or phone lines.If their is an investigation case,going on?

RobertJuly 24, 2012 2:59 PM

I know an individual who is not a police officer who got a hold of 1 of these devices and target certain people to listen to phone calls he causes a lot of trouble. He uses the excuse being a reserve sheriff to have 1 he sits in front of your house to listen to you on the cell.

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