Law enforcement phone tracking

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COLUMBIA - Law enforcement can locate a person's location by pinging their cell phone with the help of a cell phone provider company. 

"We do not have any software or hardware technology at the Boone County Sheriff's Department to be able to track anybody’s cell phones," said Chief Deputy Major Tom Reddin. "We have to use what is provided by the cell phone provider."

The Boone County Sheriff's Department only uses phone tracking through cell phone providers. However, other methods of phone tracking do exist. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will look at a digital privacy case regarding a person's Fourth Amendment rights. 

The court will decide whether a warrant is needed to obtain cell phone location history. 

Civil rights and privacy groups worry phone tracking technology can go too far. A device known as a cell site simulator or sting ray can track a person's phone but also gathers information from phones nearby. 

The American Civil Liberties Union have identified 72 agencies that own sting rays. The organizations said the surveillance technology is used by both local and federal agencies.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department said it must have a search warrant or a court-issued subpoena to obtain any information from a cell phone carrier.

Cell phone tracking is often used to find missing or endangered people. Reddin said it helps to prevent a person from further harm.

Without a subpoena, authorities can still gain access to track a cell phone if they get permission from an endangered person's family.