Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Fort Worth police cause confusion with cell phone tracker memo
The department's plans for the device and safeguards against abuse aren't as well-developed as they should be.
The Fort Worth PD insists it was a misstatement, but an internal memo on its new Kingfish cell-phone tracking system said the device could be used for "developing probable cause." Previously the department had said they would only use the device after obtaining a search warrant, which would require obtaining probable cause before using it. Reported NBCDFW:
"The police department will use the KingFish System, a portable cellphone tracking system, to assist in locating, identifying, developing probable cause and apprehending priority offenders," the memo said.
The "developing probable cause" phrasing caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. Police need to obtain a search warrant first, the organization said.
"Having a neutral party like a judge review and sign a warrant is the safeguard for individual privacy rights that prevents the police from simply using whatever tools are at their disposal to peek at, observe, watch or invade the privacy of folks at will," said Lisa Graybill, ACLU legal director.
But Fort Worth police say the description was misleading. The department always intended to obtain a search warrant before tracking someone, police said.
The department also said that if an arrest came from tracking someone, the district attorney, defense attorneys and a judge would all review the case.
If it was just a misstatement and they really do plan to get warrants, fine. If police intend to use the devices BEFORE they have probable cause, that's a problem. At a minimum they need some written policies on the subject. This was a consent-agenda item which wasn't discussed at all when the City Council approved it, and it sounds like the department's plans for the device and safeguards against abuse aren't as well-developed as they should be.
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