ACLU seeks lim­its on track­ing tech­nol­ogy

Lanier dis­cusses breath-test sys­tem

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union sounded the alarm on Wed­nes­day over po­lice of­fi­cers’ abil­ity to use cell­phone sig­nals and li­cense-plate-read­ing tech­nol­ogy to track peo­ple in­side the Dis­trict.

A se­nior staff at­tor­ney from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lo­cal chap­ter told the D.C. Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on the Ju­di­ciary it should con­sider leg­is­la­tion that im­poses lim­its on how the tech­nol­ogy may be used and sheds light on how in­for­ma­tion is stored.

“Our per­sonal move­ments in the city ought to be our per­sonal busi­ness,” Fritz Mul­hauser said out­side a hear­ing room, not­ing the tech­nol­ogy’s use is wide­spread and could ex­pand. “There’s no turn­ing back the clock.”

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat, held the over­sight hear­ing to elicit tes­ti­mony from Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Chief Cathy L. Lanier and other law en­force­ment agen­cies on a range of top­ics — from drunken-driv­ing en­force­ment and po­lice re­cruit­ment to preven­tion of ram­pant rob­beries and crimes against the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity.

In a re­cent rul­ing, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Depart­ment needed a valid war­rant to track a sus­pected drug dealer with a GPS de­vice on his car.

The case, the United States v. Jones, “sent enor­mously im­por­tant sig­nals” that po­lice must take care in how they track sus­pects, Mr. Mul­hauser said.

As­sis­tant Po­lice Chief Peter J. New­sham said the depart­ment is com­ply­ing with the rul­ing on GPS cases, although li­cense-plate cap­ture does not re­quire a war­rant be­cause it amounts to snap­shot data col­lec­tion on public streets.

Of­fi­cers ob­tain a war­rant to ac­quire cell­phone data that tri­an­gu­lates a per­son’s lo­ca­tion, ex­cept in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions such as when some­one’s life is in dan­ger, he said.

Other tes­ti­mony at Wed­nes­day’s marathon hear­ing in­cluded Chief Lanier dis­cussing the Dis­trict’s dis­con­tin­ued breath-test sys­tem — which has ham­pered the pros­e­cu­tion of drunken-driv­ing cases for nearly two years. The po­lice chief said the pro­gram should be cor­rected and ac­tive in about six months.

The Dis­trict’s prob­lems with Breath­a­lyzer ac­cu­racy has prompted the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Depart­ment to use urine sam­ples — although it has al­ways been a test­ing op­tion, along with blood test­ing — in the mean­time.

Chief Lanier said the urine tests have at least one ben­e­fit — it is able to de­tect a star­tling num­ber of driv­ers who are un­der the in­flu­ence of PCP.

But she as­sured the com­mit­tee that po­lice are work­ing with the Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner to have an ac­cu­rate Breath­a­lyzer sys­tem in place by Au­gust or so.

“We’re not go­ing to stop our en­force­ment in the mean­time,” she said.


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