Cell Phone Location Tracking Laws by State in the US

In this day and age when the use of our always-connected phones, TVs and even smart refrigerators presents a modern and often necessary way of life. We have to ask ourselves how much privacy do we have when all our data is online? Do we really need to be always connected? Do we really need to share pictures and places we’ve been or plan on going to?

It is not surprising that there are plenty of corporations and even government agencies that would very much like to always get their hands on this type of privacy sensitive information. Users who are always sharing their position using Facebook, Instagram and any other service for that matter should know that all that information is stored online and collected on remote servers. It’s neat when you have your memories tagged on exotic locations yet how does that translate to safety and privacy concerns. When using social networks or other websites that require your location data – you agree to give up your privacy when you start using the service after agreeing to the license agreement documentation.


Online data privacy in the 21st century?

Private corporations use license agreements to track and have access to the data you use and share online so how about government? You might be surprised by the fact that the US security agencies would very much like to track all of their citizens in order to prevent or solve criminal activity. Not to mention of how much value location tracking would help to fight and to prevent terrorist threats before they have the chance to do any damage.

It is widely known that some online services require a location to be shared in order to provide additional features to them. Tagging photos with GPS coordinates is pretty much a standard and default enabled the feature on many devices and applications. Games also require location tracking in order to connect users with friends or other people near them. Recent games use GPS exclusively to keep their players chasing goals and achievements placed in locations in the real world.

Most of the time users do not have to worry as such location tracking and data collection isn’t kept permanently nor misused in any way. So, what happens when the government agencies require tracking and collection location data?

They send requests with warrants to companies that of course have to abide the law and reveal their users’ data. This only happens when an active investigation demands evidence collection after the criminal activity has been committed and laws were broken. Companies that shared their data with authorities on demand include Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AT&T and many other familiar companies.


Things that should concern many is that most of us leave a trail of movement activity in databases of mobile providers using CSLI (cell-site location information). Guess what – these databases can be accessed by your local, state and federal law enforcement agencies without a warrant. Luckily this isn’t allowed in some states so read on to find out what is your state’s policy on cell phone location tracking.

States that leave your cellphone location information unprotected and readily available to law enforcement agencies include Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Alaska and Hawaii.

The states where no warrant is required for viewing historical CSLI data include Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan.


In Colorado, Pennsylvania and Delaware it is left to magistrate judge’s discretion to require a warrant for historical CSLI data.

States, where warrants are required for all cell phone location information gathering, include California, Utah, Montana, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine. This does not constrain federal law enforcement.

In Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey warrants are required only for real-time cell phone location tracking information and it doesn’t constrain federal law enforcement too.

In Florida, there is no warrant required for historical CSLI data although the warrant is necessary for real-time cell phone position tracking. This applies the same in Virginia and Maryland too.

So, there you have it. To those that were not aware of these states policies this would come as a shocker indeed. The world is a very insecure place and given the increase in global terrorism and increase of threats from those that are among us wearing no uniforms these security precautions are a necessity. Most of the population should not be worried as these measures are required to keep and protect the innocent law abiding citizens.

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