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ACLU Wants Cell Phone Tracking Info From Hawaiian Police


The American Civil Liberties Union is asking five law enforcement agencies in Hawaii what procedures they use to track citizens using cell phone location data, part of a nationwide campaign targeting police, sheriffs and other law agencies across the country.

Law enforcement agencies can use information from cell phone companies to track citizen's whereabouts. That’s because every minute cell phones are on, the phones leave electronic "breadcrumbs" behind that can pinpoint the phone’s location.

"We want to make sure that the public understands how the government is collecting and using their private information. And we want to develop policies, procedures and better legislation that will protect our privacy rights in the future," said ACLU of Hawaii staff attorney Laurie Temple.

Temple said her office has filed requests with the four county police departments, as well as the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Public Safety to find out when, why and how they are using cell phone location data.

A spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department said Hawaii's privacy laws are some of the strictest in the country, requiring law enforcement agencies to show a judge probable cause before getting a court order or a warrant that would allow them to obtain cell phone location information.

"We'll be thrilled to find out that Hawaii's law enforcement agencies respect our privacy rights and the fourth amendment. And we'll be extra happy to send that information to our national organization," Temple said.

Several people using their smart phones Wednesday night in Manoa sounded off about Hawaii law enforcement agencies' use of personal cell phone information.

"I'm actually really surprised that's not the case everywhere, because I feel like you would need that type of information," said Ryan Lerner, a UH Manoa student majoring in travel industry management. "It's just great that our state is having, like a judicial process. Just making sure that they're doing the right thing."

UH student Jeff Harkelroad said, "I think it's a breach of privacy, however, for the community, it would benefit tracking down criminals."

An HPD spokeswoman likens the procedure in Hawaii to getting a search warrant for a home or business. Just as police can't just walk into someone's home and look for something if they don't have a warrant, they can't access cell phone data without a warrant as well, she said.

The HPD spokeswoman said the police department employs the cell phone technique to solve crimes "infrequently."

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