Are Police Departments Tracking Cell Phone Calls in Georgia?

By Titus Falodun | 3/28/2014, 9:48 a.m.
Movies and hit cable shows, such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” exposed the bane of law enforcement…disposable prepaid cellphones ...
Stingray cellphone tracker tower.

Phone calls abductors made to Ayvani's family demanding ransom and drugs allowed authorities to trace their phone records, which they said led to 29-year-old Wildrego Jackson's arrest the next day.

In the past year, Major Lavallie stated that cell-tracking by Clayton County police has been only utilized three times. But there were no further details about what information was collected and its success rate.

Additionally, what happened to the collected information and how far it ranges are not within the public records.

Gillum’s report also cites that a December 2013 investigation by USA Today revealed nearly one in four law enforcement agencies it surveyed had performed tower dumps, and slightly fewer owned a Stingray. In addition, 36 agencies refused to provide details on their use.

Reaching out to Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Clayton County police departments yielded much the same blockade, with information being little to none.

The APD issued the following statement to The Atlanta Voice Thursday, March 27, via Officer John Chafee, in the Public Affairs division:

We employ a number of different investigative techniques, some of which we do not provide details on in an effort to preserve their usefulness. At this time, we will respectfully decline the opportunity to discuss the use of this type of technology.

The FBI's response on Friday, March 28, to The Atlanta Voice's inquiry is the following:

Location information is a vital component of law enforcement investigations at the federal, state and local levels. As a general matter, the FBI does not discuss specific techniques used by law enforcement to obtain location information, as they are considered Law Enforcement Sensitive, the public release of which could harm law enforcement efforts at all levels by compromising future use of the technique. The FBI only collects and maintains information that has investigative value and relevance to a case, and such data is retained in accordance with controlling federal law and Attorney General policy. The FBI does not keep repositories of cell tower data for any purpose other than in connection with a specific investigation. The collection of cell tower records is only performed after required FBI approvals are received in the specific investigation, and only after the appropriate order is obtained from a court. If the records obtained are deemed relevant, the specific records are made part of the investigative case file. The FBI retains investigative case files in accordance with NARA-approved file retention schedules.

While law enforcement may be provided access to historical cell tower records through issuance of a court order under Title 18, United States Code, section 2703(d), a few federal district courts have held that these records are entitled to Fourth Amendment protection and therefore a search warrant based upon probable cause would have to be obtained for the information. Generally speaking the FBI advises our field offices to work closely with the relevant US Attorney’s Office to adhere to the legal requirements of their District as set forth in case law or court decisions/precedent. If the FBI believes the use of any technology or technique may provide information on an individual where case law dictates that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, it is FBI policy to obtain a search warrant.