Are Police in Delaware Tracking You?

Filed in National by on April 29, 2012

If you haven’t had the chance to read Sean O’Sullivan’s article in Sunday’s News Journal about the ability of the police in Delaware to track you via your cell phone, you should do so now.

O’Sullivan looks at a few national cases where police overstepped the bounds of law enforcement to get cell phone tracking data and then goes on to look at how police in Delaware are obtaining this data. In the several interviews O’Sullivan did, it seems as though the police are trying to be above-board in getting this data.

Deputy Attorney General Paul Wallace said state prosecutors handle all requests for cellphone data from all Delaware police agencies and seek approval from a Superior Court judge before going to the cellphone providers to get location information. There is an exception for emergency situations in which police agencies are able to obtain information immediately and directly from cell providers.

However that last line is quite ominous and it bears repeating:

There is an exception for emergency situations in which police agencies are able to obtain information immediately and directly from cell providers.

Who decides if it is an emergency? The police do. Have there been instances when a police officer has been disciplined for getting data when it wasn’t an emergency? In reading the article, one has to read between the lines of police department spokesmen.

Officers with several other Delaware police agencies indicated in interviews last week that cellphone location data is an important police tool. New Castle County Police Cpl. John Weglarz Sr. said the county seeks such information in emergency circumstances — such as situations involving a suicidal subject — but it does not seek it “on a routine basis.”

Dewey Beach Police said it is rare for a small agency like theirs to seek such information. “Once or twice a year,” said Sgt. Clifford Dempsey, and then usually for a missing-person investigation.

But the Delaware State Police was a bit more forthcoming and honest saying that “such requests are becoming ‘much more common’.” Rep. Darryl Scott (D-Dover) is working on a bill to better address this issue.

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  1. Wilmington Police Lied About Cell Phone Tracking : Delaware Liberal | May 7, 2012
  1. AQC says:

    If they’re tracking me they will be bored to death.

  2. Dave says:

    Good, they will be able to find me when I get lost, unless I turn off my phone and shut down GPS, which I won’t do unless I am on the lam!

    Of course I live in Sussex County so, I have the sheriff to protect me from the tyrannical revenoors! Thank the Lord for Saint Christopher!

  3. V says:

    couldn’t they just put in guidelines as to what is/isn’t an emergency? Honestly I can totally see a use for this data. If i’m in some crazy guy’s trunk on the way to an isolated location, i’d like them to be able to fine me if my cell phone’s in my pocket.

    also minors are more and more likely to have cell phones these days, so i can see this come in handy for missing tweens etc.

    This stuff isn’t going away, we’ll just to find ways to regulate it.

  4. Rockland says:

    This is not a Bush or Obama construct, it has been the law of the land for nearly 100 years. In fact, there is no expectation of privacy when it comes to the telephone numbers you call either, only in the contents of your conversations.

    Also, you have no expectation of privacy when it comes to the contents of your bank statements. Law enforcement can look all they want without a warrant.

    Or anything really for that matter. You have reveal ungodly amounts of private information to the IRS. Not only that, but the standard of evidence in tax court basically requires you to prove your own innocence.

    The government has a right to everything you have. It decides what you are allowed to keep. To them, you don’t have a right to financial privacy because they own your wages and lease you your property.

  5. Dave says:

    @Rockland. Sucks to be you, I guess. I tell the IRS where my money came from. That’s about it. Maybe you should let someone do your taxes instead of doing them your self. The IRS really does not want to read your life history and what you do in your own bedroom.

    Also, I’m not sure who you are calling and for what purpose, but as someone in whom the government has more than a passing interest, I can pretty confident they aren’t listening to my calls, or if they are, they are pretty bored.

    Your understanding of what law enforcement can and cannot do is really very limited from what I can see in what you wrote. Of course it is easier to spout off what you’ve heard than it is to do your homework and discover the truth. By the way, I have extra aluminum foil I don’t need. I can let you have less than what I paid for it. Interested?

  6. @Dave–Rockland is wrong about most things, but he’s right about tax court. You’re essentially presumed guilty and must prove your innocence. It hasn’t been an issue lately, but it was a big deal in the ’90s when the IRS was suffering from “seizure fever”.

  7. Dave says:

    I’ve not had any experience in tax court so my comments were not specifically referencing that aspect. Weren’t there changes in the way tax court works as a consequence of all that stuff in the 90s?

  8. Not so sure about changes in tax court, Dave. I’m pretty sure the changes were in IRS enforcement policies. Our late Senator Roth and his awful toupee were involved. Google it if you’re interested.

  9. kavips says:

    The genie is out of the bottle. It won’t go back in. The bottom line is how we can control the genie now that she is out.

    Being purely simple, there are two options. The carrot and the stick. Recommend figuring out the stick first so we can find a bottom with which we are all happy with.

    The simplest and most effective way, is to OPEN up lawsuits to outrageous sums if information ever gets misused.

    Because it is all relative. If someone kills my daughter and the police find that person by analyzing every conversation going though a cell tower nearby, I will say, thank heavens for amazing technology. Of course the arrested person is going, wtf, you searched everyones phone’s data. You can’t do that.

    The answer in that case is you killed a little girl. You can’t do that so searching the data is good.

    Now, if someone goes to Verizon and says, here’s $1 million. What can you tell me about Roland D. LeBay. That is misuse of information. Under the patriot act, there is absolutely no repercussion if Verizon sells your information. Since there is no way of knowing what was sold, that person could make up data. Tell a lie in other words, and start that rumor flying to tarnish the reuptation of Mr. Lebay…

    That is the danger. So allow Mr. Lebay the ability to sue Verizon for say $1 billion dollars, and the leaks will dry up real quick. Verizon will police themselves to make sure nothing leaks out. They will prove any leakage was not of their doing but was done by the people who did it, and Verizon took every effort to safeguard that information.

    Big difference from today. Allowing for suing the shit out of corporate America, will instantly cause this problem to go away…

    As big as corporations are, the fines should start at $1 billion. Anything smaller would just be treated as a business expense.

  10. Dave says:


    That would be a start but…you may have set up an impossible situation for Verizon because there is no standard to prove that “Verizon took every effort to safeguard that information.” With no conrete definition of “every effort” one is left with beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and considering the makeup of juries who would be influenced by a deep pockets paradigm, it would be an automatic loss for Verizon. Companies will cooperate if they are ordered to and are protected but the difficulty is ensuring that there “adequate” safeguards against inadvertant release.

    Maybe some solution is possible in the way information is not just aggregated but stored. Having personal information in a single file is a lot less secure than having it dispersed. Think about it this way, if all your valuables were in a single location in your home it would be much easier for it to be stolen than if it were dispersed throughout the home requiring both more time and effort to uncover and steal.