Fort Worth Cellphone Tracker Rings Controversy

Police say they will get warrants before tracking

By Andrew Tanielian
|  Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012  |  Updated 8:14 AM CDT
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The Fort Worth Police department recently bought a cellphone tracker to help build criminal cases, but some are concerned about their privacy. The police department says law-abiding citizens have nothing to be concerned about.

Andrew Tanielian, Fort Worth Reporter

The Fort Worth Police department recently bought a cellphone tracker to help build criminal cases, but some are concerned about their privacy. The police department says law-abiding citizens have nothing to be concerned about.

Fort Worth is taking heat over the city's recent decision to buy a cellphone tracking system.

A city memo describing the system's use sounds to some like police will track people's cellphones without first getting a warrant.

"The police department will use the KingFish System, a portable cellphone tracking system, to assist in locating, identifying, developing probable cause and apprehending priority offenders," the memo said.

The "developing probable cause" phrasing caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Police need to obtain a search warrant first, the organization said.

"Having a neutral party like a judge review and sign a warrant is the safeguard for individual privacy rights that prevents the police from simply using whatever tools are at their disposal to peek at, observe, watch or invade the privacy of folks at will," said Lisa Graybill, ACLU of Texas Legal Director.

But Fort Worth police say the description was misleading. The department always intended to obtain a search warrant before tracking someone, police said.

The department also said that if an arrest came from tracking someone, the district attorney, defense attorneys and a judge would all review the case.

"I think we're following Chief Halstead's lead," Mayor Betsy Price said. "He's the expert on this, as well as our legal department, and they are telling us this is an excellent technology that will help save lives in Fort Worth."

The City Council didn't discuss the issue before voting to give the police department $184,000 to buy the system.

The city said the system was fully investigated by city departments, including its attorney.

Councilman Sal Espino said the proposal was presented in a way that didn't raise any red flags and that he would look for better wording in the future.

The cellphone tracking system item was bundled with other city business on what is called the "consent agenda," a way to streamline city business. A single vote from the City Council can approve numerous items at once.

Even though the KingFish cellphone tracking system was on the consent agenda, the public can comment on any item on the agenda, said city spokesman Jason Lamers.

There were no comments from the public or the council, he said.

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