According to a new report from The Appeal, two New Orleans-area sheriff’s offices contracted with a tech company that allowed them to access cell phone location data without a warrant.
According to Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Captain Jason Rivarde, the sheriff’s office – which also runs the Jefferson Parish jail – captured more than 5,800 cell phone location coordinates from 2015 to mid-2018. Those coordinates were then used as part of criminal investigations, according to Rivarde.
The information was obtained through the use of a technology provided by Securus Technologies, one of the country’s top providers of messaging and phone services to correctional facilities. The company disabled the technology in mid-2018, but not before both Jefferson and Orleans Parish sheriff’s offices had access to it.
According to the report, the contracts with Securus and the law enforcement offices gave the Jefferson and Orleans Parish sheriff’s offices access to the location data for any cell phones that received or made calls from their correctional facilities. In addition, the company offered to provide the location data of a cell phone that did not connect with a call at their jails, if law enforcement provided Securus with the cell phone number. Securus claimed that it “makes no representation or warranty as to the legality” of using the technology and that the responsibility to collect the data legally fell on the law enforcement agencies.
“With such powerful technology comes substantial government responsibility to build out safeguards, and it sounds like that didn’t happen here,” American Civil Liberties Union Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann said.
Securus stopped offering the service to their law enforcement clients in May 2018, weeks before the Carpenter v. United States Supreme Court ruling stating that cell phone location records are protected under the Fourth Amendment and that law enforcement agencies must first obtain a warrant in order to request access to them. In April and May 2018, a recording warned people placing calls to the Orleans Justice Center that “the call is subject to recording and monitoring and your location information may be collected and used by corrections and law enforcement personnel.” According to Schwartzmann, that recording may not be enough to be considered proper consent, since in most cases phones are the only way loved ones can communicate with someone who is incarcerated.
“The office needs policies to stop an officer from using this technology to track the whereabouts of his ex-wife, a politician from tracking the whereabouts of their opponents, or officers from surveilling people they just don’t like,” Schwarzmann said.
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_