We have discussed in the past how legislative bill tracking in New York City often mirrors national legislation. As a growing number of local police forces ask the courts for more clear directives regarding seized or stolen cellphones and the data they contain, the NYPD’s cellphone database is coming under scrutiny.
The NYPD has amassed a large register of information from cellphones. Often this information is seized without the consent of the phone’s owner. This is particularly alarming to privacy rights advocates in the context of cellphone theft. People who report phones missing can have the phone’s data records end up in the NYPD database. It is not entirely clear how this information is used, though the database does allow for cross-referencing phone numbers to aid in investigations. In some cases, a given number is tracked even after the phone is reported stolen and the number re-registered by the owner on a new device. The NYPD has not released information regarding how the database is used or how often it leads to arrest.
As an increasing number of cellphone users switch to smartphones, the amount of data on a given cellphone is staggering. Many experts believe the issue will require either a High Court ruling or an update of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.