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Privacy Issues Arise Out of Cell Phone Data

By: Gerri L. Elder

How much privacy are you entitled to have when you use a cell phone?

Due to advances in technology, cell phone users can now be located by their wireless network; however, questions have now come up about whether or not the wireless service providers have a right to release that information without a warrant, even if doing so could save a life.

In missing person cases, every minute is critical and any delays could mean the difference between life and death. If the missing person is thought or known to be suicidal, loved ones can be frantic to find them in time and certainly want to use every shred of available information in hopes of avoiding a tragic ending.

A recent article by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that many thousands of incidents occur in which a person’s life may be saved if they can be located through their wireless network.

The only question is whether or not it is legal for a cell phone carrier to release the location of customer without a warrant.


To Be, Or Not To Be…Legal

Certainly in missing person cases, the information can be the key to finding a person and getting it quickly can be crucial.

However, it is not illegal for an adult to vanish and therefore obtaining a warrant would not only be time consuming, but in most cases futile.

If no crime has been committed, police are unable to obtain a search warrant instructing cell phone carriers to turn over the phone records and information.

Police and investigators in missing person cases rely on cell phone companies to voluntarily release information to assist in locating the cell phone of the missing person and hopefully the person as well.

Generally phone companies simply require that the police provide a statement indicating that the customer’s life is in danger before releasing the information.

Some people question whether or not this is a violation of privacy or an abuse of the technology.

No legal challenges have been filed regarding the use of cell phone technology to assist in missing person cases, but police officials admit that the government does not have the right to examine cell phone records without a warrant and doing so stretches the law a bit out of shape.

Privacy Rights Advocates Concerned Over Misuse Of Information.

As with all advances in technology, it takes the law a little while to catch up with technology rights issues.

Until legal challenges are heard in court on issues regarding technology there are many grey areas. Cell phone technology is no different.

With no legal precedents or laws to set guidelines, the cell phone records remain available as a tool for law enforcement in missing person cases – for now. However, the moment that privacy advocates feel that investigators begin to overstep the invisible boundaries, a legal challenge can be expected.

In most cases, it is not a matter of if, but when, that will happen and what courts and lawmakers will have to say on the issue.