You would have thought the United States Supreme Court had made it clear on their controversial ruling earlier this year. Police need a warrant when using GPS tracking devices to track suspected criminals. However, there’s still apparently a lot of murk to sift through when it comes to tracking suspected criminals via cellular phone GPS. Citizens of Canada are now asking if law enforcement and corporations are treating their own GPS tracking data with the same controversial carelessness as some US law enforcement agencies have been accused of?
GPS Tracking in the United States
If you own a vehicle, the FBI, Police Department, etc. may not secretly install a GPS tracking device on that vehicle without a warrant. However, cell phones with installed GPS devices are apparently monitored routinely by both Federal and local law enforcement agencies. The primary application for this sort of monitoring is emergencies, especially in relation to abductions or missing persons. The secondary application is ongoing investigations, tracking of suspected criminals as law enforcement officials build a case.
Cell Phone Tracking—An Exception to the Rule?
In the US, vehicle tracking without a warrant has been ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court. However, cell phone tracking has not. In fact, many segments of the cell phone industry, supposedly, routinely sell access to cell phone tracking data to law enforcement.
Canada and Warrants for Cell Phone Tracking
The big question to Canadians, however, is how that data might be used in Canada. In emergencies, do law enforcement officials have access to private cell phone data? May Canadian law enforcement officials access citizens’ locations without a warrant?
According to the official policy of some of the most popular cellular providers in Canada, the answer is no. The general policy among cell phone companies is not to provide data without a court order.
How Private Should Your Cell Phone Records Be?
As GPS tracking through cellular phones becomes easier and more routine, the battle for data privacy rages on. When we use a cellular phone, do we have the right to keep our location a secret, or should law enforcement agencies be permitted to track our location with impunity, with the blessing of the large corporations that provide us our service? Only time and litigation will finally determine the answers to these two key questions.