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Feds push for mobile phone tracking, even when idle

When people think somehow “they” are able to track me by RFID implant, aside from trying to explain the limitations of the technology and the actual effective range of the implant (2 inches), I also point out that cell phones are able to pinpoint your exact whereabouts at any time. Private companies providing location based services pay a minimal fee to carriers to obtain people’s cell phones’ locations all the time… it’s simple to do.

CNET reports:

Wireless carriers using CDMA networks, such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, tend to use embedded GPS technology to fulfill E911 requirements. AT&T and T-Mobile comply with E911 regulations using network-based technology that computes a phone’s location using signal analysis and triangulation between towers.

T-Mobile, for instance, uses a GSM technology called Uplink Time Difference of Arrival, or U-TDOA, which calculates a position based on precisely how long it takes signals to reach towers. A company called TruePosition, which provides U-TDOA services to T-Mobile, boasts of “accuracy to under 50 meters” that’s available “for start-of-call, midcall, or when idle.”

Now the FBI wants that same level of access, and then some.

Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. On Friday, the first federal appeals court to consider the topic will hear oral arguments (PDF) in a case that could establish new standards for locating wireless devices.

In that case, the Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their –or at least their cell phones’– whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.

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3 Responses to “Feds push for mobile phone tracking, even when idle”

  1. Jon Pederson says:

    Though the Obama administration may think I have “no reasonable expectation of privacy,” I personally expect to have reasonable control of my privacy. And forfeiting my right as a consumer to purchase any legal product in order to maintain this control is not reasonable.

    Last I checked, our law states I’m innocent until proven guilty. So why would the government need to know my whereabouts unless I was a felon and it was court ordered?… in which case there is a fancy ankle bracelet for that. :)

  2. Amal says:

    Agreed. There is an unprecedented expansion of “mandated record-keeping” measures being pushed now. From prospective laws asking ISPs to keep their customers’ IP traffic records for up to 3 years, to the above noted push to have phone companies keep location records long term which would allow government and law enforcement to perform retroactive “taps” on location data.

    Is the expectation of privacy being reduced to living in a cave, completely cut off from all electronic communication? Also, is there a difference between expectation of privacy from the public vs privacy from the government? Should there be? Will the American public soon be forced to use the same anonymization proxy services that currently provide privacy protected communication services to Chinese people who are trying to avoid their oppressive government’s censoring and political punishment policies?

  3. Amal says:

    Also, let’s not forget that this push into American’s private lives was started even before Bush Sr.’s administration, and was carried silently through Clinton’s era, then was really expanded post-911… the real danger here is people adhering to political affiliations, allowing and even promoting these invasive policies while their party-of-choice is in power, then demonizing those same policies while a not so favorable party is in power.

    Fundamental changes must take place in the way we as a nation handle security both domestically and internationally so the American people are not simply reduced to “collateral damage” in the war on terror. Furthermore, those in power must never forget that well intended but all powerful policies such as these will not relent once their intended purpose is fulfilled or no longer relevant. The tendency of human beings, no matter how righteous or resolute, is to subvert their own ideals, and I can easily see a day coming where these laws and policies will be directly turned against the people to squelch political dissent and ultimately free speech itself. In short through corruption and our own fears, we are becoming a totalitarian “North Korea” of the West.

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