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Cellphones Increasingly Used As Evidence In Court

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the we-know-where-you-were-last-summer dept.

The Courts 232

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that the case of Mikhail Mallayev, who was convicted in March of murder after data from his cellphone disproved his alibi, highlights the surge in law enforcement's use of increasingly sophisticated cellular tracking techniques to keep tabs on suspects before they are arrested and build criminal cases against them by mapping their past movements. But cellphone tracking is raising concerns about civil liberties in a debate that pits public safety against privacy rights. Investigators seeking warrants must provide a judge with probable cause that a crime has been committed, but investigators often obtain cell-tracking records under lower standards of judicial review — through subpoenas, which are granted routinely, or through an intermediate type of court order based on an argument that the information requested would be relevant to an investigation. 'Cell phone providers store an increasing amount of sensitive data about where you are and when, based on which cell towers your phone uses when making a call. Until now, the government has routinely seized these records without search warrants,' said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. Last year the Federal District Court in Pittsburgh ruled that a search warrant is required even for historical phone location records, but the Justice Department has appealed the ruling. 'The cost of carrying a cellphone should not include the loss of one's personal privacy,' said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the ACLU."

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232 comments

"Right" to a private cell phone? (2, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620559)

Carrying a cellphone isn't displaying any expectation of privacy. By having it, you're explicitly granting permission for people to find you.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (3, Insightful)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620627)

What if you have it set to silent or "meeting" mode?

This just really goes to show you that you could put your phone on its Airplane setting before you commit a crime ... who wants their phone ringing when their holding up a liquor store, anyway?

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1, Informative)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620719)

What if you have it set to silent or "meeting" mode?

It's still going to be in contact w/ the towers and it's location will be known. As far as I know, those modes simply turn off the ringer. If you put it in flight mode or remove the battery so that it is no longer transmitting there will be no location data sent.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621157)

Yes, but the point is expectation of privacy per the thread parent. When I carry a cellphone, it's because I expect it to ring, I expect to be contacted, thus there is no legal expectation of privacy. But if I have the phone set to meeting/silent, my expectation is of privacy ... should that be considered in the issue of whether or not my physical location tracking data should be obtained by subpoena or a warrant?

Also, please correct my spelling and grammar in my previous post. I hadn't had my coffee yet.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (4, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621421)

But if I have the phone set to meeting/silent, my expectation is of privacy

No, your expectation is not to be disturbed. If you wanted privacy you would have turned the phone off......

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (2, Insightful)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621629)

Isn't that effectively the same thing? Humans now exist predominantly in cities. How can anyone in a city expect privacy by your metric? If we all wanted true privacy we would move to the country-side, but there is not enough country-side for all to have that kind of privacy. Is/should privacy (be) dependent on available land? Should the legal expectation of privacy be dependent on circumstances we cannot control? Sure, we can turn our cellphones off ... but the slippery slope leads to the idea that we shouldn't expect privacy in our homes because they have windows and doors. To me, setting my phone to silent is the same as pulling the curtain over my window at home. The legal system will have to determine if this is equivalent to an expectation of privacy.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621397)

It's still going to be in contact w/ the towers and it's location will be known

Small nitpick, but the exact location is not known unless you are actively engaged in a call/data session. GSM has "location areas" set up for idle phones. When a call/SMS comes in for your phone a paging message is broadcast on every tower within that location area. The page tells your phone to connect to the network to receive the call/SMS. Until your phone responds to that page the carrier has only a vague idea of where it is. The size of the location area varies depending on population and other factors but they are generally large enough that it would be pretty hard to locate you based solely on an idle phone.

I'm not as familiar with CDMA but I believe it uses a similar concept to handle the paging of idle phones. It makes good sense when you think about it -- if the phone had to contact the network every single time you moved between towers you'd drain the battery a lot faster while in motion. In this manner it only has to contact the network when you move between location areas, which happens a lot less, thus saving battery life.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621797)

Right, it's in contact with the towers so they've got the 'general area' you're in, ( though one might be able to do some funky stuff to beam your signal directionally to another tower?)

I do have this 'GPS' thing on my phone with the option to either turn it on for all calls, or turn it off except for 911 calls. Does this mean that 911 can determine my GPS location if I call them? I don't see any way that I can view my lattitude/longitude/elevation from my phone which is too bad since I'd use it for geocaching or something probably. I don't own any other GPS device that I know of. I don't want a map on the device just a cheap way of getting lattitude/longitude/elevation. I don't want it that badly or I'd buy a more expensive and advanced device that would probably include a map and a screen.. Oh well.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

Escape From NY (1539983) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622175)

I do have this 'GPS' thing on my phone with the option to either turn it on for all calls, or turn it off except for 911 calls. Does this mean that 911 can determine my GPS location if I call them? I don't see any way that I can view my lattitude/longitude/elevation from my phone...

If you put your phone in Field Test Mode, you should be able to see your long/lat. Just Google your phone model & "Field Test" and you should find instructions.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622181)

do have this 'GPS' thing on my phone with the option to either turn it on for all calls, or turn it off except for 911 calls. Does this mean that 911 can determine my GPS location if I call them? I don't see any way that I can view my lattitude/longitude/elevation from my phone which is too bad since I'd use it for geocaching or something probably.

You can't view it because most phones don't have real GPS capability. They have A-GPS [wikipedia.org], which relies on the network to determine your location.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28620685)

Am I allowed to choose that I want to carry it only in the event that I wish to make a call without neccessarily switching it on first, and not for the purpose of being tracked by sattelite, or is this choice prohibited?

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (3, Informative)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620881)

There's a difference between "people" and law enforcement however. Case law has been shown to allow for general vicinity locating but anything more accurate requires a warrant:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/celltracking/lenihanorder.pdf [eff.org]

However this can vary by jurisdiction so YMMV.

Now if someone wanted to track you on their own and can do so, that's their prerogative.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621089)

Erh... no. I grant people the right too reach me, as in, get in contact with me, if, and only if, I choose to answer it when they call me.

That's what I explicitly grant when carrying a cell around.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (3, Insightful)

dachshund (300733) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621107)

Carrying a cellphone isn't displaying any expectation of privacy. By having it, you're explicitly granting permission for people to find you.

I think you're explicitly granting permission for people to call you, which is not the same thing as knowing where you are. Similarly, just because my cellphone can record audio and video while "off-hook" doesn't mean that I'm explicitly granting permission for people to eavesdrop my day-to-day conversations.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (0)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621139)

Which is exactly why I do not own a cell phone.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621401)

"I'm so non-conformist, I'm conformist!"

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (0, Flamebait)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621467)

So this is great news for you! You can read the many responses that show that your reason is bogus! Now off you go on your journey from living in the 70's to present day ;-)

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (2, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621247)

By having it, you're explicitly granting permission for people to find you.

No. I did a project for a bank where the bank would ask user permission on Cell Phone (within 4 seconds) before authorizing the transaction on his Credit Card (since many credit card users were reporting fraud). The proposal of querying Cell Phone for its location went through heavy debate due to concerns of users privacy. It held some ground only with arguments that we were not tracking user on regular basis and we would record his/her locations only when he/she uses credit card.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621277)

Carrying a cellphone isn't displaying any expectation of privacy. By having it, you're explicitly granting permission for people to find you.

No. It's granting permission for me to make and receive calls. Nothing more.

Just because you use email to send/receive messages doesn't mean you want everyone to know *where* you sent the messages from. The idea is being able to contact people and having them contact you. It is not to announce your location.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

DaHat (247651) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622155)

> Just because you use email to send/receive messages doesn't mean you want everyone to know *where* you sent the messages from

A) Not 'everyone' can know where you are when your cell phone is tracked, such information generally requires a warrant.

B) Unless you are using extra means to hide/obscure where you are sending/receiving your email, your IP address will be known and also can be used to have a rough idea of where you are at the time of the sending.

Hell... even using the USPS to send your messages can be used against you... or are you unaware of the tracking possibilities of a postmark? Heck knows those donâ(TM)t require a warrant.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (5, Insightful)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621389)

Carrying a cellphone isn't displaying any expectation of privacy. By having it, you're explicitly granting permission for people to find you.

Actually, I am granting the right to attempt to contact me (I can lie about my location, even if I honor the request/answer) to those whom I give credentials (i.e. Cell#)

That is a far cry from explicitly allowing the whole world to know my exact location.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (2, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622063)

A phone number is a pretty shitty credential. To the point that I'm not sure I would even call it a credential.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

Mr.Ned (79679) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621679)

I'm not explicitly granting permission for people to find me; I'm letting a select group of people try to get in touch with me. I don't give my number out to just anyone, and even if I do give it to you, I'm not always going to choose to pick up the phone when you call. I do have my phone configured to give location information to emergency services, but not to anyone else.

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621693)

Really? Do cell phone companies clearly communicate to their customers that they will be keeping a log of everywhere the customer goes? A reasonable person might understand that the company would be able to know which towers the phone was connected to, but why would they think that this information was being recorded and stored?

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621783)

Since when? Are you confusing phones with com badges from Star Trek, perhaps?

And even leaving aside that point, why does that grant the right for the police to seize records without a warrant?

Re:"Right" to a private cell phone? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621883)

No, you are explicitly choosing to see who is trying to communicate with you and decide if you care to communicate with them or not. That's what caller ID is for. You may or may not choose to tell that caller where you are (you might even lie, see Captain Morgan commercials). You may or may not realize that your phone's location must be narrowed down to the nearest tower for it to work.

One of my phones had a feature to enable location, disable location unless I dial 911 or disable it for all cases. That setting may or may not be honored in practice, and it can't actually disable locating it to the nearest tower, but it certainly shows that people may have an expectation that their physical location remain private even when they use the phone.

For most people, cellphones run on magic. The implication that recieving a call means someone or something knew what cell they were currently in is lost on them. Even technical people who haven't read up on it might assume that it works like ethernet switches and broadcasts to all towers until they answer and confirm their location (that wouldn't work very well, and is not what happens, but it's not entirely out of the question as an expectation).

Keep in mind that expectation is based on a typical person's understanding of the situation,. IMHO, the courts have way too easily denied the expectation of privacy. For example, it claims I have no expectation of privacy in any public place because I should know people will see me. I maintain that I DO have SOME expectation of privacy because those people won't know who I am.

If I hook a personal GPS up to twitter, THEN you may assume that I am granting people permission to know where I am.

Alibi's? (5, Insightful)

jrmcc (703725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620581)

Now that we are aware of the increasing use by law enforcement of cell phone records, won't criminal simply setup their cell phones at some alibi spot, go off and commit the crime and use the records as support for that alibi?

Re:Alibi's? (4, Insightful)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620773)

Now that we are aware of the increasing use by law enforcement of cell phone records, won't criminal simply setup their cell phones at some alibi spot, go off and commit the crime and use the records as support for that alibi?

So, not only do mobile phones bust the alibi of the guilty, they now also cause doubts about the alibi of those not guilty??

Doesn't that mean that a mobile phone should not be used as evidence?

Re:Alibi's? (3, Insightful)

Kozz (7764) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621681)

Consider the differences between a false positive and a false negative.

Mod Parent Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28620949)

Always use throw away cell phones, when committing crimes.

Re:Mod Parent Up (3, Funny)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621209)

I already do.

I mean, hypothetically.

Re:Mod Parent Up (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622177)

So you throw away a phone every time you download a movie? That's a lot of phones lying around, and the MPAA better hope they're not camera phones...

Re:Alibi's? (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621013)

Cell phone position alone could not crack an alibi. However, if the suspect made a phone call from his cell during the same time period as the crime, that could very well break their alibi.

See, if it were just the cell phone position, it could be argued that the suspect didn't have it on their person at the time. It would be useless in court. Tie their cell phone to their voice at the approximate time of the crime, however, and you have a whole new set of evidence to play with.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621263)

Erh... not even the EU got paranoid enough in their war against terror or pedos or whatever the current boogyman (I lost track, lacking interest, sorry) to do a full audio recording of all cell communication...

Re:Alibi's? (1)

he-sk (103163) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621699)

All you need is a witness testifying he spoke to the suspect on the phone.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622101)

All you need is a witness testifying he spoke to the suspect on the phone.

With these kinds of friends, you don't need enemies.

Re:Alibi's? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621925)

You don't need an audio recording. Just a record that a voice call was made. Which every cell phone company records, for billing purposes.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621919)

Cell phone position alone could not crack an alibi. However, if the suspect made a phone call from his cell during the same time period as the crime, that could very well break their alibi.

IF the person called testifies that it was the defendant who made the call. Otherwise, the defendant "lost his phone" and a bag lady found it and called someone in the address book (who knows why?)

Re:Alibi's? (1)

blackchiney (556583) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621047)

This works on CSI, in reality it's much more difficult than that. Unlike TVs the evidence to get a strong conviction doesn't really on a smoking. The evidence is used to build a case against you. If you leave the cellphone behind the prosecution will skip it and rely on other evidence like CC receipts, security cameras, witness testimony, etc. The only thing a cellphone can do is say you are in the area. It doesn't report which building you might have entered, what you possibly said, or what you were thinking.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than a civil case (the ones the RIAA is fond of). Because one means you could go to prison, lose your job, and way of life, the other just means you'll lose some money and probably be a little uncomfortable, temporarily.

The arguments slashdot users are making here are the same arguments a decent defense attorney also makes. The prosecutor doesn't like to be blind-sided because he/she relied on a single piece of evidence that could be disqualified or disputed. So they would never rely on just a security camera, or just a cellphone location report. Together they paint a strong picture. Add more evidence and you've got a compelling case.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621493)

The only thing a cellphone can do is say you are in the area.

The only thing a cellphone can do is say the cellphone is/was in the area*.

*Probably. Assuming the IMEI / ESN haven't been cloned [cellphonehacks.com].

Re:Alibi's? (2, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621053)

Now that we are aware of the increasing use by law enforcement of cell phone records, won't criminal simply setup their cell phones at some alibi spot, go off and commit the crime and use the records as support for that alibi?

No, because most criminals aren't that intelligent or thoughtful.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621211)

You can use any kind of evidence used by the police to lay down false tracks. Want to kill someone when you have to wait for him? Gather some cigarette stubs from someone who equally hates that person and litter them in a bush next to your target's house. You're into rape? Start collecting used condoms. It's admittedly a wee bit harder with fingerprints, but DNA proof opened up a whole new road when you're carefully planning your crime. Most people don't care where they leave their DNA, from hair to chewing gum.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621701)

Alternatively, they use pre-paids, pay with cash, and discard the phone every few weeks/months. Hard to track call records if there's no proof you ever owned the phone.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621791)

It won't make much of a difference. The same DA who argued that the information should absolutely be considered reliable when it points toward the defendants guilt will argue in the next case that it should not be considered reliable at all if it points toward innocence.

Re:Alibi's? (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621799)

Its a known fact that most criminals that are caught are stupid. If that's because criminals are stupid or that cops can only catch stupid criminals is an interesting question. Even more interesting is that if cops can only catch stupid criminals, does that make cops stupid...

Sounds like a good idea... (1)

Nikkos (544004) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620681)

Yes, the next time I'm going to commit murder I'm going to bring my own GPS-tracker with me.

2 options (2)

pig-power (1069288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620703)

Looks like there are only 2 real choices here:
1. Don't use or carry cellphone
2. Don't break any laws
Was there anything I missed?

Re:2 options (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621651)

Don't get your cellphone stolen. Might be a good one. I mean..to think...a criminal that stole your phone might go out and commit further crimes while carrying your cellphone! Or maybe, you were just too close to a crime scene. Cell records indicate your phone loitered around in the park where that dead hooker was found...good luck explaining you were out running that morning and twisted your ankle and had to stop.

The list gets pretty long if you bother to stop and think a moment.

Re:2 options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621669)

Would you mind getting a speeding ticket from data of your phone?

And what if it was for going 3mph over the limit for 100 feet past the sign where the limit went from 45 to 40...

And for not coming to a full stop at that stop sign...

What if they also read out the ecu in your car and fine you for not signaling that turn?

And in some states, fine you for talking on the phone wile driving...

The law-enforcement assumption will be that it was you who was talking, driving, etc, and you'll just have to go to court to fight the ticket if you were a passenger...

And the court will make some 'mistakes' (for example, a clerk assigns you the wrong court date, and 'forgets' to tell you that the police officer has asked to reschedule, etc (yes, that happens, really)), that you can't really do anything about and that will cost you fighting that ticket a couple of extra days.

No big deal, right?

Re:Chilling Effect (1)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622001)

And I hope your cell phone has a web browser because you'll be making many a query to findlaw to try and figure out if what you want to do is legal. And if you can't figure it out, you better not do it, rather than, I want to do it, and though someone somewhere may take issue with it if they knew I was doing it, I'm in private and only practically have to consider the opinions of those present.

Too easy to spoof (4, Interesting)

ultraexactzz (546422) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620717)

It's a simple matter to avoid this sort of scrutiny. Give the cell phone in your name to someone else, go commit the crime, and then retrieve the phone. If you can't keep yourself from texting for 20 minutes, then you really have no business being a felon.

I find this reminiscent of the RIAA's arguments, where they show that infringement took place from an IP, but they cannot show who was sitting at the computer. Who can prove who was carrying a cell phone?

Re:Too easy to spoof (1)

_LORAX_ (4790) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620859)

RIAA is civil, not criminal so the same burden of proof is not applicable.

I doubt the phone records were the only "proof" that the alibi was bogus. Once they knew where the person was and/or wasn't it shouldn't have been too hard to find corroborating evidence.

Re:Too easy to spoof (1)

dachshund (300733) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621281)

It's a simple matter to avoid this sort of scrutiny. Give the cell phone in your name to someone else, go commit the crime, and then retrieve the phone.

A surprising number of murders are crimes of passion, i.e., the murderer didn't set out to commit a crime, and didn't plan accordingly. Many of the others are carried out by stupid people.

But yes, I agree. And I would take this further --- if you're ever planning to do something questionable, like cheat on your wife/girlfriend, buy drugs, take clothes/food to an escaped political prisoner who's wanted by your authoritarian government, you should be proactive and take the battery out. There's no telling how long those records will be archived somewhere.

Re:Too easy to spoof (2, Funny)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622221)

But yes, I agree. And I would take this further --- if you're ever planning to do something questionable, like cheat on your wife/girlfriend, buy drugs, take clothes/food to an escaped political prisoner who's wanted by your authoritarian government, you should be proactive and take the battery out.

But what if it is an iPhone?

Re:Too easy to spoof (1)

fulldecent (598482) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621301)

>> I find this reminiscent of the RIAA's arguments, where they show that infringement took place from an IP, but they cannot show who was sitting at the computer. Who can prove who was carrying a cell phone?

preponderance of evidence

Re:Too easy to spoof (1)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621589)

Privacy protection is for honest people. Giving criminals ways to feed misleading information to authorities only serves the purposes of the criminals. It's serves the purposes of law enforcement better for criminals to think 'the cops would need a warrant to search my phone records, and they don't have enough on me to get one, so I'll just use my cellphone and not worry about the tracking data' than for them to think, 'the cops can query my cellphone records at will, and they probably have everyone's data hooked up to a suspicious activity monitoring system that will send up a red flag if I appear suspicious. I will feed them data that will make me look like Ned Flanders, and go do whatever I want. They might have their suspicions but when they think they've got my number and see I'm Ned Flanders they'll stop looking.

I'll drive from my home in Northern Vermont to Connecticut, hit the mob boss there, drive to New Jersey to collect the cool fifty grand for his head, buy a new blood free duffelbag, and call my 'forgotten' phone which my jealous girlfriend will pick up to see if I'm cheating on her, do some perverted mouth breathing in her ear, and then head home, and break up with her.

Investigators will think it's implausable that I was in Connecticut and so stop looking my way. Of course this 'alibi' wouldn't hold up to scrutiny in court, but it doesn't have to, it's done its job by keeping me out of court in the first place.

Re:Too easy to spoof (1)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621721)

If you made a phone call bracketing the crime and people confess that the calls were you, there's no reasonable doubt, depending on the time frame, that someone stole your phone and then gave it back to you.

A question that needs answering in these cases... (4, Insightful)

DontBlameCanada (1325547) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620727)

How does the prosecution prove that the cellphone was in possession of the accused at the time?

My wife frequently borrows my phone if she needs to go out and hers is dead. I'll do the same with hers. Its a portable device, with no onboard biometrics. Anyone could pick it up and transport it somewhere without the owner's knowledge or permission. What better way to frame someone for a crime than to take their phone to the scene, do the crime, call the phone (to generate a calling record with cell-tower location data) then return it.

Re:A question that needs answering in these cases. (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621123)

Think about finger prints. While CSI isn't real life, it is unnervingly close. "His fingerprints are on the gun, he must be the killer." The finger prints indicate he had touched the gun, not when, but the media is teaching us to not question this. (Much like COPS and other related shows are getting us used to having SWAT come out to take care of everything.)

If you question these things, you must have something to hide, and you don't have anything to hide, do you citizen?

Re:A question that needs answering in these cases. (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621135)

You could also clone their phone before the crime. Then you only have to jam their original phone.

Anyway, people have been convicted and executed on shakier evidence than phone records. All the prosecutor has to do is convince the jury that you had the phone on you, and you'll be convicted. Remember, the DA just has to convince, he doesn't have to prove.

Re:A question that needs answering in these cases. (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622005)

People don't get convicted because their cell phone was or wasn't in one location or another, they get convicted because they have no plausible explanation for why their cell phone was in a location that fits in perfectly with the story the prosecution is telling and contradicts the story the defense is telling.

This is true (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28620731)

I was on a jury for a federal case in February. The prosecutors spent a whole lot of time talking about cell phone records and showing who called who when and on what tower. To me it didn't really prove anything, because you just don't know who had possession of the phone when the calls were made.

Re:This is true (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621219)

I was on a jury for a federal case in February. The prosecutors spent a whole lot of time talking about cell phone records and showing who called who when and on what tower. To me it didn't really prove anything, because you just don't know who had possession of the phone when the calls were made.

I wish I could mod you up.

Re:This is true (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621223)

You seem to have a clue. How did you ever make it past jury selection?

Re:This is true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28622247)

The lawyers on both sides had the forms we filled out which included, name, county we lived in, and occupation. I was sitting in the front row with the defense attorneys maybe 12-15 away. I could hear them talking. They would point at jurors and say things like "he's from X county so he's probably rich." They pointed at me one time and said "he's a software engineer." I'm assuming I was picked because of all the time and effort they spent on the cell phone stuff. They probably wanted someone technical who would understand it.

Location doesn't prove much for us... (3, Funny)

Sirusjr (1006183) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620879)

I don't see why we on slashdot care about this with the majority of us spending all of our times in one solitary location in front of a desktop PC.

Re:Location doesn't prove much for us... (2, Insightful)

xenolion (1371363) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620953)

Speak for yourself, Im reading this on the bus using my blackberry...damn they are going to find me now

This is not an invasion of privacy (3, Informative)

jcorno (889560) | more than 4 years ago | (#28620965)

Your cell phone service provider is not bound by any confidentiality laws. If they're willing to hand over your records for just a subpoena, or even for a simple request, it's within their rights. Your expectation of privacy doesn't apply to information that you provide a third party unless it's a doctor, lawyer, or spouse.

Re:This is not an invasion of privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621147)

with the contracts/commitments for your phone service, it might as well be a marriage.

Re:This is not an invasion of privacy (5, Insightful)

minor_deity (1176695) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621343)

Which is a glaring hole in the law, one which should be changed.

Any personally identifying information held by a company or individual about a second individual should be considered confidential and treated as such. Otherwise you might end up in the situation where your doctor doesn't tell anyone you have disease X, however your credit card company could because they know you've been buying medications. Who the information comes from is really of little consequence; it's the information itself that matters.

It is worth saying again (3, Interesting)

Normal_Deviate (807129) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621093)

Privacy is doomed. The march of technology can be slowed, but not stopped. Eventually this will give us a world without theft. The trick is keep it from also giving us a world without fun. That means getting rid of most of our laws, not just nibbling around the edges trying to make it hard to enforce them.

No, I don't know how to achieve that goal, short of re-wiring some brains.

Re:It is worth saying again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621627)

That argument is based on the observation that enforcing privacy laws is going to be next to impossible, so we might as well give in, because laws without enforcement punish the honest and reward the dishonest. I would argue that there are lots of conventions which have held for generations without a reasonable expectation of seeing violations prosecuted. It used to be called common courtesy. The attitude that you can do as you please if you can't get caught is a new thing, at least as far as it doesn't pertain to just a small fraction of the population. Likewise, privacy is something that people need to respect as something which benefits all. If people only treat it like an obstacle, then the result of not getting caught will be that privacy is doomed indeed.

Re:Common Courtesy (1)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622205)

Ok, common courtesy is a good thing - most of the time, but courteous drivers piss me off.

I absolutely hate it when attempting to pull out across two lanes of traffic when a 'courteous driver' in one of those lanes stops to let me go when they have the right of way to just proceed. This creates all sorts of havoc including:

  • Drivers behind them are delayed - not too courteous to them eh?
  • Those drivers are irritated and may not understand what the hold up is, and often attempt to go around the stopped car - in the other lane, and this behaviour is unpredictable making it unwise for me to cross that lane since a car in the other lane could suddenly pop out and smash my car - which would be my fault since they have the right of way
  • Often the car that stopped is an SUV with a driver that thinks that makes them visible enough to safely alter the normal flow of traffic by stopping to be courteous. The fact that their vehicle is so tall and has tinted windows means I can't see over it to determine whether there are any cars coming in the other lane
  • I sit there, honk my horn wave them on, whatever, until they get the idea, and drive off exasperated. I am delayed further because the delay has closed for me what would have been a break in traffic which would have allowed me to cross safely.

Re:It is worth saying again (1)

davegravy (1019182) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621771)

Eventually this will give us a world without theft. The trick is keep it from also giving us a world without fun.

The latter is not so important if you have a society that isn't aware of what fun is. You can't long for that which you don't know you're missing. Read Nineteen Eighty-Four sometime if you haven't already.

New Alibi (2, Funny)

KurtisKiesel (905982) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621097)

So all I have to do is leave my cellphone home and I can go commit crimes? What is the world coming too?

Re:New Alibi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621557)

What is the world coming too?

You have two options with that sentence:

1) What, is the world coming too?

2) What is the world coming to?

Polygraph (1, Insightful)

HogGeek (456673) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621121)

Wy do I have the feeling this is used like Lie Detector tests?

If a polygraph test indicates guilt, then the prosecution will use all means to get it admissible. However, if it indicates innocence, it will be "brushed over"...

Cellphone data to be stored 12 months (2, Informative)

Raindeer (104129) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621161)

Cellphone traffic data has to be stored for 6-24 months in the EU, exactly for this reason. It's useful for law enforcement. The Dutch Parliament yesterday accepted a law that requires this data to be stored for 12 months (who called who, where). Internet data (who used what IP-adress at what moment, who mailed who, but not what websites were visited, gmail, twitter etc.) will only need to be stored for 6 months.

privacy (5, Insightful)

markusre (1521371) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621189)

this article reminds of of a movie i recently watched: a woman calls the russian embassy from her mobile phone and her first words are: "Are we on a secure line?" but it was kind of disturbing being the only one in the cinema laughing about that...

If you phone is stolen... (2, Informative)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621193)

On the other hand, if you phone is stolen, the phone company will go mute. No amount of convincing will get the location information out of them. There have been cases where people were kidnapped, but the telco wouldn't give the police location information for the phone.

Why stop at law enforcement? (3, Interesting)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621245)

Why stop at law enforcement? Let all litigants in civil cases have access to the information. Think
about it. Cheating spouses, monitoring your kids; it'll be a great society if we all have this data. Ala "South Park" WifeTracker 2010 will be a great boon to all those paranoid husbands out there who's wives are meeting guys on Craigslist or PlentyofFish. At the same time why not have the tracking information go right to Twitter so we can all automatically know when Ernie down the hall takes a BM in the company lavatory.

Why stop there? Why not allow public access to all the surveillance cameras everywhere. We should have
access to all of this. Put it on youboob so we can all see it and eat popcorn at the same time.

Oh wait, let's also get your DNA so that every place you've ever been can be tracked. You know, that hair you leave behind in the tub at Travelodge? Hell, we can associate that to your tracking so we don't need electronic surveillance.

Yeah, that'll be a country that I want to live in and be a part of.

Personally, I find these trends very disheartening and with the ever increasing use of this information
being collected for profit and presumed "law enforcement" makes me worry about our future liberties. All law enforcement needs to do is have a presumption that a crime is being committed and your liberties and privacy go out the window.

Take a look at Iran, yeah I said it, and how they're using the technology to crack down on protesters in their country.

Thanks for the tip (2, Insightful)

gubers33 (1302099) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621251)

Just get an accomplice to carry your phone to a different location and make a call while you are committing a crime else where and you have an alibi. Prosecutors need to realize that this is a double edged sword, by using this method to prosecute people, the smarter criminals can use this to their advantage to give themselves alibis by having people make calls for them on their phone.

Re:Thanks for the tip (1)

markusre (1521371) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621853)

or if you dont have an accomplice tie the phone to a dog. activate gps. and register it to http://www.tangogps.org/friends/ [tangogps.org] and you can find the dog again. let the crond make make the alibi calls with a prerecorded message. just be quick so the battery doesnt run out.

Privacy (1)

bouaketh (731170) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621351)

If you aren't doing anything wrong what do you have to be concerned about?

Re:Privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621823)

If I'm not doing anything wrong then no one has any cause to watch me.

Disposable cellphone (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621473)

The smart criminals just carry a disposable cellphone, so it's a non-issue for them. Warrantless cellphone tracking just hurts everyone else.

What the hell? (3, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621639)

Investigator: We traced your mobile phone signal to the location of the murder. Can you explain that?
Suspect: My phone was stolen not long before the incident, actually. I was making a call in the town, which probably also comes up on the log you have, when a guy snapped it from my hands. I hadn't reported it yet. Say, you don't think this mugger would have also tried to harm someone else to get their belongings, do you? I mean, someone less pansy than me who might have put up a fight?

What a pile of useless garbage this scheme is.

Why Store is the Question (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28621667)

The question is: why do the cell companies retain such information? If the bill is paid, then the knowledge of what cell tower was nearest to me when I made the call, and other similar matters, becomes totally indefensible. Why do they still retain such useless data?

I suppose it's because they can. Storage is cheap, and only a few extra lines of code will do the job.

Another example is the public library. They usually retain a list of all books that a patron has withdrawn. But why? What purpose does it serve? They don't sell targeted advertising or offer recommendations based upon a patron's reading history. When a book is returned, all record of that transaction should be immediately deleted simply because it no longer serves any purpose.

If these companies would throw away all such useless information about their patrons and clients, then privacy concerns would become very much smaller.

Make cellphones mandatory? (4, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621703)

Governments love tracking tech. Unfortunately the idea of spying on citizens <irony> provokes a few "idealists" to object on the basis of "liberties" </irony> (as if we ever had any?)

However mobile phones are merely "technology", not people. So the ability to track them is a much easier sell - especially as it wouldn't involve the people at all, just some computers 'n' stuff.It seems to me that all a government has to do is make tha carrying of a mobile phone an obligation for citizens, visitors and the like. Getting rid of anonymous phones would also be part of the deal, but in many places they're already gone or on the way out.

What happens next is that people have been issued with de-facto ID cards. Ones that can be accessed passively without the owner's knowledge or permission. Yes you could turn it off, but people are so addicted to them, and so afraid of missing "that" call (we know this: almost everyone will stop doing *anything* to answer a call when the phone rings - they just can't ignore it or let it ring). amd so insecure, that hardly anyone would. It might even become socially unacceptable - like smoking in public, or travelling naked. Even better, the cost to the government is much lower than for an ID card scheme, and once everyone has one, all the time, they can be used for issuing summones, texting out tax demands, traffic tickets and almost anything else that a government or official body would need to send to it's citizens.

Presumably the next step would be to have them implanted at birth?

Previous planning prevents piss poor performance (1)

proslack (797189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28621831)

The lesson here is to hide your phone behind a book at the library before you go off on a crime spree, then fetch it upon completion.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28622003)

Bottom line ... whenever I murder someone these days I make sure to leave my phone at home. I really don't want that thing going off and disturb me at the critical point any way. Us murderers must be ultra careful these day. Whatever happened to our civil liberties? It is no fun murdering people anymore, always having to look over your shoulder... bloody police state!

one cell phone company (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28622009)

I work for a cell phone carrier. We are able to, and are asked to do so with regularity, triangulate the position of a cell phone based on signal strength to multiple towers. We do NOT require a warrant, subpoena or anything of the sort. What we have is a Microsoft Word document, sitting on a fileshare accessible to ?all? employees, containing a list of law enforcement districts and passwords. Every city/county/agency has an authorized contact person with a unique password. So Mr. 'Claims-to-be' Smith from the city of Ispyu calls up and says I want to know where this person is right now, my password is abc123, and they're told where the phone is at.

The article tells me this isn't unique to my company and is widespread across the cell phone industry. The article DIDN'T speak of the lol authentication mechanism though, so now you know.

Amateurs! (2, Insightful)

killmenow (184444) | more than 4 years ago | (#28622089)

  1. Go to a bank where you have an account.
  2. Withdraw $200. Ask specifically to get it as four $50 bills
  3. Go to McDonalds. Buy something. Pay with $50 bill #1
  4. Go to a different fast food place. Buy something small. Pay with $50 bill #2
  5. Go to a gas station and get $5 of gas. Pay with $50 bill #3
  6. Go to Wal-Mart. Buy a small bottle of clorox bleach. Pay with $50 bill #4
  7. Wait. Keep the rest of the cash.
  8. Next time you're out of town on vacation, use cash to purchase two pre-paid cell phones.
  9. Return home and use phones to plan and commit felonies
  10. After you realize how stupid you are and that the feds were watching you the whole time and the second you used that phone, they were able to get the number off a tower and are already up on a wire monitoring everything you're doing and you're going to PMITA prison for a long time anyway even though you thought you were so clever, drink clorox.
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