Privacy

Big Brother on Your Trail

Who's tracking your cell phone?

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Suppose I approached you with a request. I want you to carry a small gadget that will automatically transmit your location to the police, allowing them to track your every movement 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Chances are you would politely decline.

Too late. You already accepted.

That gadget, you see, is called a cell phone. For years, the cops may have been using it to keep close tabs on you without your knowledge, even if you have done nothing wrong.

They don't have to get a search warrant—which would limit them to situations where they can show some reason to think you're breaking the law. All they have to do is tell a judge that the information is relevant to a criminal investigation and send a request to your service provider.

This does not appear to be an uncommon event. Al Gidari, an attorney for several service providers, told Newsweek they now get "thousands of these requests per month."

Oh, and the data are not limited to your movements today or in the future. The government can also see records of where you've been in the past. So if you got skittish and decided to stop packing a wireless communications device, your privacy would still be at risk.

You can be vulnerable even if the police have no particular interest in you. Michael Sussmann, another lawyer for service providers, said in 2006 that sometimes, "we get a subpoena for information on one person and then they want all the information on the persons calling or called by them."

These developments explain why a coalition of organizations and companies—including Google, AT&T, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the American Civil Liberties Union—have joined in asking Congress to drag our privacy laws into the 21st century. They think search warrants should be required before law enforcement can demand this sort of electronic communications information.

You might assume unchecked government surveillance of innocent people went out of style when George W. Bush took his leave. But this is one of those instances that seem designed to show the futility of trying to change policy by changing the party in power. Barack Obama's Justice Department also insists it should have the authority to conduct such tracking without a warrant.

Some judges don't buy it. A couple of years ago, a federal court in Pennsylvania said the practice was at odds with both federal law and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures." Cell-phone location tracking, the judge concluded, invades the privacy Americans have a right to expect.

No kidding: It can reveal if someone is having an affair, visiting a gay bar, attending a militia meeting, or tea party event, going to an abortion clinic, seeing a psychiatrist, getting treatment for substance abuse, worshiping at a mosque, and any number of other activities some people would rather conceal from a government they do not fully trust.

Those on the other side think a warrant requirement would be unreasonable, since a cop doesn't need court permission to follow you down the street on a hunch. But Northwestern University law professor Albert Alschuler says, "There's a big difference between watching you all the time, everywhere you go, and watching you pass by."

Police departments will never have enough cops to physically tail you and millions of other people constantly. But the spread of cell phones makes it possible for law enforcement to conduct endless surveillance on a scale that is both vast and intimate.

Privacy protections can become meaningless if we don't adapt them to new inventions. Today, we take it for granted that the FBI can't listen to our phone conversations without a search warrant. But in 1928, the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment did not apply to anyone "who installs in his house a telephone instrument with connecting wires … to project his voice to those quite outside."

Not until 1967 did the court correct that blunder. It ruled that "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places," including those things a person "seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public."

Maybe it still does. Or maybe not.

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  1. Top of the morning to you, Suki.

    1. Good Morning Untermensch!

      Had a little trouble finding time travel oil, so I had to make a stop in 2020 and get a bigger stockpile.

  2. You might assume unchecked government surveillance of innocent people went out of style when George W. Bush took his leave. But this is one of those instances that seem designed to show the futility of trying to change policy by changing the party in power. Barack Obama’s Justice Department also insists it should have the authority to conduct such tracking without a warrant.

    Quothe the Iron Law:*

    Me Today. You Tomorrow.

    This is the same type of logic why HCR will not be repealed. And all of you progressive types thought The One would actually repeal The Patriot Act. I’d love to see any of the usual suspects defend this.

    Why do you hate freedom, Statists?

    *As compiled by RC Dean.

  3. It can reveal if someone is having an affair, visiting a gay bar, attending a militia meeting, or tea party event, going to an abortion clinic, seeing a psychiatrist, getting treatment for substance abuse, worshiping at a mosque, and any number of other activities some people would rather conceal from a government they do not fully trust.

    But our militia meets in a gay bar.

    1. If you have a couple drag queens, gay club militia’s can be fierce!!.. that is all

    2. Oh yeah? Well my militia meets in a gay bar, where we receive substance abuse counseling while we give women abortions in the back room. Needless to say, we praise Allah throughout the proceedings.

      1. Does the bar serve food with salt?

        1. serves excellent margaritas at night.

          1. Drinking margaritas (with salt!) while praising Allah.

            Truly He is great and merciful!

            1. Piece be upon him.

              1. “I don’t want a PIECE of you… I want the whole THING!”

  4. As soon as Hank Johnson saves Guam he will get on this.

    1. April Fool!

    2. He’s my congressman.

  5. I don’t own a cell phone. Join the Resistance, Comrades!

    1. Word.

    2. I smell a new government program coming for people who don’t own cell phones . . .

      1. Take one. It’s free! No, really! We insist.

      2. It’s called Safelink.

  6. Too late. You already accepted.

    If it helps Jack Bauer hunt down nondescript, secular-minded terrorists from nondescript, Middle Eastern countries before they can set off the bomb, I do accept it.

  7. If they are tracking my cell phone they think I’m a hermit that never leaves my bedroom except to go to a Bama game once or twice a year.

    1. Ha ha! Little do you know I also make an excellent listening device.

      1. You’re not going to hear much in my bedroom.

        1. More interesting James, you have no qualms about announcing your lack of bedroom activity to the world.

          1. Unless he’s so uber-cool that he thinks it’s bourgeoise to fuck in a bedroom.

            1. Intelligence Report
              Re: the bedroom of James Ard. We have been hearing the sound “fap, fap,fap” every morning at exactly 0400 hours. He definitely is communicating in code to unknown person AKA “ahhh”. Suggest we take action immediately on this terrorist. Full stop

  8. My phone and I are often in different locations. I would think some interesting court challenges are forthcoming about this tracking stuff.

    1. “Your Honor, my cell phone was in North Carolina buying illegal tobacco while I was in New Jersey waiting for it to come home for a recharge. Honest!”

        1. If I had a cell phone, I’d mail it to Hank Johnson’s office and watch his district tip over.

  9. Great! One more thing I have to worry about. I have 4 cell phones. I’m in real trouble now!
    http://www.suckitupcrybaby.com

    1. Dear valued customer,

      Your blog sucks.

  10. Jump in the pool:
    How many days until a story comes out about a cop tracking his wife and people she has called because he suspects she might be having an affair?

  11. Those on the other side think a warrant requirement would be unreasonable, since a cop doesn’t need court permission to follow you down the street on a hunch.

    Even accepting this logic, cell phone tracking extends into private areas where the cops could be excluded without a warrant. Analogy fail.

    So the real question is:

    How do I defeat this feature? I don’t care if they know what cell I am in at any given time, but I do care if they know exactly where I am at any given time.

    1. The only way I know of to “defeat” the feature is pull the battery. I am informed by several dubious, albeit paranoid, sources that even when off, a phone can be transmitting some carrier signal. This is kind of a bitch for us iPhone junkies.

    2. Doesn’t turning your cell phone off work? Though the movie Eagle Eye taught me eve when the cell phone is off they can still track the mic.

    3. Put your cellphone in a Faraday cage, aka a metal box with a tight fitting lid, or wrap it in several layers of aluminum foil for the same effect.

      But you won’t be able to receive calls, or even know you are being called, while your phone is thus isolated from the rest of the electromagnetic continuum.

      1. But you won’t be able to receive calls, or even know you are being called, while your phone is thus isolated from the rest of the electromagnetic continuum.

        So only turn on your cell phone if you are calling someone or want to receive calls.

    4. turn it off and take out the battery and this applies to all devices.

  12. After yesterday’s speech by President Obama regarding his new legal program, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised about cell phone tracking abuses…

    1. Correction, last year’s speech…

  13. Is there any process in place that would allow a customer to find out if their location data has been turned over to law enforcement?

    1. You do not need that information, citizen.

  14. I believe that process is known as a “criminal trial”, b, and then only if you have an unusually sophisticated and ethical prosecutor familiar with the notion that evidence should not be withheld from the defense.

    1. Surprisingly that wasn’t intended as a naive or obtuse question. But absent a criminal proceeding, is there a records system being kept either with the corporations providing data or with the agencies requesting it?
      Considering this is probably more of a threat to journalists and whistleblowers than terrorists and whatever is left of the Barksdale crew. I see most of the abuse coming from ‘investigations’ never intended for a trial.

      1. I imagine that simply requesting that information might trigger an investigation of your activities. After all, what could you be worried about if you were not a terrorist?

      2. Here you go b.

  15. I thought Obama was going to fix things like this… glad I didn’t vote for him.

  16. This is just a conpsiracy theory right? It seems that the guys at prisonplanet told us about this years ago…they actually beat you guys on a lot of things. Better late than never.

  17. Question here, sounds like there should be a market for cell phones that CAN’T be tracked. I know I’d buy one, and I bet there are enough other parnoid’s out there to buy one too.

    1. That’s not possible, cells require a network… The frequencies and tower hand-off functions in the US make it very easy to accuratly track a person. Removing the battery would be the only way to avoid it, even when the phone is off it is still sending data to the tower, tower to base station, base station to company hub, and so on… that is why cells can be so small… they only need enough power to get transmissions to the nearest tower which is never that far away.

      If you could find a way to get a heavy duty power source in a tiny little package, you could probably go a few miles handset to handset, bypassing a tower. Pretty much a walkie-talkie

      But even then you are using radio frequencies that anyone could pick up…

      Its no use. Satellite comms are pretty easy to exploit too…

      I got it! Develop telepathy!

      1. If removing the battery does the trick, it seems it would be very easy to install a small piece of plastic in the electrical loop that could be activated/deactivated by pushing a small button on the back of the phone.

    2. You’re right, there should be a market for it. But one problem is (I got this from one of my college text books):

      “The FCC mandated that every cell phone had to include a GPS chip by the end of 2005.”

      Time to abolish the FCC

  18. Here you go b.

    http://www.robcooper.com/uncat…..-card.html

  19. Meanwhile it would be nice if they found the mean creatures that stole my cell phone at the beach. Alas my wireless company claimed they couldn’t. Although that would probably be a great way for the police to rack up some easy arrests and conviction stats, and actually make people happy.

  20. Mr b. Google this.

    Stupid spam filter.

    1. Yes, cell transmission info is collected by giant computers…

      But you are forgetting the human side of the equation… individual people most compile the data and interpret it…

      “Big Brother” does not waste man hours on you cheating on your wife…

      In order for you to be investigated by overworked and understaffed government employees you would first have to be involved in REALLY obvious activity that could be harmful to national security…

      1. GRRR
        Quit interjecting common sense into the dialogue.

      2. This makes you comfortable? Two words: Ruby Ridge.

        It’s exactly that sort of “logic” that is allowing our freedoms and Constitution to fade. Give up YOUR freedom, GRRR, not mine.

  21. ha the jokes on them, I don’t use a cell phone! well not currently anyways but I used to. the thing is that while people that have a cell phone plan through the major providers does allow this, there are many types of prepaid cell phones you can buy that can be activated without giving your name, like tracfone for example. some are so cheap that you can buy them, use once, and throw it out. but even if you kept yours there is no way for them to know who owns the phone right away. so unless you keep the same prepaid phone number and your number becomes known to the police, there is little chance they will be able to track you or connect the number to you.

    1. Hacha Cha,do you want to buy a unicorn from me?

  22. My daughter was stabbed (on the street in a nice neighborhood of San Francisco) and the attacker made off with her cell phone. I suggested to the police that they track the cell-phone. Apparently, they had better things to do, stopping unlicensed cocktail parties or something.

    (Just a data point for anyone out there that thinks the ability to track cell-phones might deter crimes or apprehend criminals.)

  23. LOOK. I cant blame all of this electronic tailing on obama and Lord knows I despise him, but it was done ever since it has been possible to do so. However, it is surely bound to increase under this marxist leader and so I propose that all Americans with American flags flying outside of their homes run them up the pole UPSIDE DOWN to signify that this country is under attack by its president, BARACK HUSSIEN OBAMA.
    LET’S DO IT FOLKS

  24. truth,,,,obama people have no idea of the extent to which they have to be gulled in order to be led.”
    “The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one.”
    “All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it.”
    “Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”pelosi don’t see much future for the Americans … it’s a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequalities …obama feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance … everything about the behaviour of American society reveals that it’s half Judaised, and the other half negrified. How can one expect a State like that to hold TOGTHER.They include the angry left wing bloggers who spread vicious lies and half-truths about their political adversaries… Those lies are then repeated by the duplicitous left wing media outlets who “discuss” the nonsense on air as if it has merit? The media’s justification is apparently “because it’s out there”, truth be damned. STOP THIS COMMUNIST OBAMA ,GOD HELP US ALL .THE COMMANDER ((GOD OPEN YOUR EYES)) stop the communist obama & pelosi.((open you eyes)) ,the commander

  25. In this day and age this is really something that we have to think about. Who is watching your every move and what right to they have to do so?
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