Lawmakers calling for restrictions on police tracking of cell phones

MADISON (WITI) -- Lawmakers from across the state of Wisconsin are calling for restrictions on police tracking of cell phones. The bipartisan bill was filed just days after a FOX6 investigation shined a spotlight on the issue.

If you're like most Americans, you spend almost every waking hour tethered to a cell phone.

"You're essentially carrying a tracker in your pocket," Justin Webb, a Marquette Information Security Specialist with Cybercrime Review said.

Webb says that means you are constantly telling your cell phone provider where you are.

"You may not be checking in on Foursquare, but Verizon or AT&T, they know exactly where you are, all the time," Webb said.

It's not just phone companies using that information. Police are requesting it more and more.

In fact, departments across the country make millions of requests for cell phone data every year, including real-time information about a cell phone's current location.

Now, Wisconsin lawmakers are calling for restrictions on police use of private cell phone data.

A bill introduced just before Thanksgiving would require police to get a search warrant before they can track a suspect's cell phone. That's the very same issue facing the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

"It smells of government is watching us all the time," Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said.

Last month, FOX6 News showed you how a Milwaukee homicide is testing the limits of police surveillance.

Just minutes before the deadly shooting near 16th and Locust back in 2009, the suspect was seen buying a cell phone inside a nearby corner store.

After the shooting, police tracked the phone's signal to an apartment building at 57th and Hampton, where they arrested Bobby Tate for murder.

"That`s really what`s at issue here is tracking somebody in real-time, wherever they are," attorney Casey Hoff said.

Police did get a search warrant to trace Tate's cell phone, but Tate argues that the warrant was not specific enough, and there is nothing in state law that says a search warrant is required.

"We don`t have any laws that address that right now, and the laws have not kept up with technology," Hoff said.

That's where Assembly Bill 563 comes into play.

The bill is aimed at shoring up a legal dilemma that comes at the intersection between justice and privacy.

"It's good police work to catch people. The Fourth Amendment is not designed to protect the criminal. It's designed to protect the rest of us from government intrusion," Chief Justice Abrahamson said.

The bill already has 22 sponsors and two co-sponsors -- both Democrats and Republicans.

One of the bill's authors is Rep. Rob Hutton of Brookfield. A phone call placed late Monday afternoon was not immediately returned.