Sacramento County, Calif., Admits Use of Surveillance Tech

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has been using surveillance devices to collect cellphone location data.

by / August 1, 2014

Add the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to the list of law enforcement agencies tracking the location of mobile phones.

In response to local media coverage on the use of tracking technology by police, Sheriff Scott Jones issued a statement admitting the department owns and uses a device to locate a person’s known cellular phone in compliance with the law. Jones added that officers are unable to collect voice, text or data from people using the technology.

“It is used infrequently in special cases, following department policies and procedures to locate felony suspects and/or missing or kidnapped persons,” Jones said.

It isn’t clear whether the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is obtaining warrants before using the tracking device, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee. The paper submitted a series of questions to the department, but only received limited responses in return. The Bee noted, however, that a department spokesperson said they’ve been using tracking technology since the mid-2000s.

Privacy issues stemming from phone data-tracking has been a high-profile topic over the past few years. But states have had mixed opinions about whether police can use devices to pinpoint a phone’s location without a warrant.

The New Jersey Supreme Court decided last year that law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before tracking cellphones. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, however, ruled in two separate cases last month that warrantless searches to track suspects through their cellphone locations were legal.

-- Brian Heaton