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Legal Battles Over Cellphone Tracking

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the they-know-if-you're-awake-citizen dept.

Privacy 141

stupefaction writes "The New York Times reports on recent successful court challenges to police use of cellphone tracking information in the course of an investigation. From the article: 'In the last four months, three federal judges have denied prosecutors the right to get cellphone tracking information from wireless companies without first showing "probable cause" to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. That is the same standard applied to requests for search warrants. [...] Cellular operators like Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless know, within about 300 yards, the location of their subscribers whenever a phone is turned on.'"

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It's less than 300 yards (2, Informative)

Yonder Way (603108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227871)

It's a lot closer than that. I used to work for one of the companies that designed this technology.

Re:It's less than 300 yards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227913)

This is one of the reasons I don't own a cell phone.

So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227930)

So what the hell does it matter if "they" (even that sounds so tinfoilish) can pinpoint your location with an accuracy of 1 m or less?

Let them track me. I don't care.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227952)

People like you redefine the word "stupid" to the detriment of us all.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227960)

Really? I think it's really stupid to worry about how the "evil guberment is tracking me!" when there are real problems like global warming to tackle.

Fuck this. The government is so incompetent that they could never pull off the dystopia you nutcases so much fear.

Re:So what? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228058)

The government is so incompetent that they could never pull off the dystopia you nutcases so much fear.
It's not just the current government we have to consider, that appears to be something that only us 'nutcases' get. Complacent civilians are as much to blame for the creation of oppressive regimes as any dictator.

Re:It's less than 300 yards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228045)

It may be in an urban environment, where there are a lot of low-power sites to ensure the optimal re-use of the available channels to meet the high service demand. It ain't the case out in the hinterlands, particularly on the edges of the coverage area, making it more difficult for emergency services personnel to respond appropriately when needed. Not all phones have GPS technology built in yet, either. (Mine does, and I can select whether it's on all the time or only in the event of an emergency, although obviously it's impossible to verify that claim).

Yes, the gummint can track you. BFD. What do you have to hide? Imagine being able to punch up 911 and yell for help and know they can respond as needed, just like if you'd called from a nearby payphone!

Re:It's less than 300 yards (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228401)

If you know, why not tell us how much less? Instead of 300 yards, are we talking 30? 3?

Re:It's less than 300 yards (1)

Yonder Way (603108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228700)

Because I am contractually obligated to not divulge company secrets. Duh.

Re:It's less than 300 yards (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228820)

Then post as AC.

Re:It's less than 300 yards (4, Informative)

dl748 (570930) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228552)

Actually, this is wrong. At one time, I had to talk with upper 911 officials about GPS software. They can only get less than 300 yards if they are in a BIG city, hence more towers to use for triangulation. This fails as you move to say, a rural area (aka driving in the country) or even driving on a major highway going from city to city. In most cases they can't even do triangulation, worst case they can get 1-2 strips of area that could be up to 10 miles in area, less worse, they only get 2 points which are up to 10 miles apart. Lets not even mention if you go into a tunnel, or even a big building, where signal strength drops, or reflects off of objects, and the towers think you are somewhere else. These guys also told me, that if i really knew how 911 work, i'd be suprised that they could find anyone, even calling from a stationary phone. The frequency of dialing 911, and getting a dispatcher in a completely different county, that has no idea of the area, is astounding. You run into similar problems with GPS phones where you use satelittes, going into a building with metal roof, putting your phone in your car, if your car rolls over, you are screwed on GPS.

Re:It's less than 300 yards (2, Informative)

Yonder Way (603108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228704)

Big cities actually make it harder to triangulate. Not only is it harder to get a GPS fix in a skyscraper canyon (if your phone uses GPS), it does weird things to RF as well (causing bounces).

Suburbia is a lot easier to deal with than a big city.

Shock! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227880)

So in other words, we know the cops are trying to abuse the technology when they have no reason to do so, since they don't even have enough proof to show that a crime has been committed. Sounds like the usual bunch of guys wanting to track their wives or hunt down the guy who cut him off in traffic that morning. I wonder how many of them sit around all day whining that they get no "respect" from the citizenry?

Re:Shock! (3, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227915)

They never needed absolute proof, just a probability high enough that a judge would accept it. Apparently the DoJ hasn't been able to meet even that rather lax standard. In spite of some recent bad Supreme Court decisions, it does seem like the judiciary is the only arm of government that maintains any respect for the population at large.

My father once told me, "Every time the police want a new power, you have to drag them over the coals, make them justify it to us. Otherwise they just get lazy and we all suffer for it."

Re:Shock! (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228154)

...population^Wfugitives at large...

Criminals are tracked? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227882)

Does it mean that the police can track any criminal as long as his cell phone is turned on?? One more reason for not having a cell phone, or rather having one but no phone number

Re:Criminals are tracked? (3, Interesting)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227902)

In Belgium, they recently sent a SMS to all people wich a cellphone within a certain range to investigatigate a crime which happened at a gasstation, searching for witnesses. (which also raised alot of privacy questions.)

So even not just criminals I suspect, but just needing a motivation to get the data from the providers, which do have these access logs. I don't know the exact protocol used in GSMs, but when you turn on your phone it tries to connect to your provider. And tries to keeps that 'connention'. (fe. if you have roaming, and you cross the border, you get welcomed with an SMS from the new network you're connected to.)

Re:Criminals are tracked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228042)

That actually sounds like a really neat idea. I would fully support that. Minimally invasive relative to the problem it could solve.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228347)

I agree, i don't know how the cell networks operate but if it would be possible for a cell tower to broadcast an SMS message to ALL rather than to a particular number so any phone in range would get the message.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227907)

Does it mean that the police can track any criminal as long as his cell phone is turned on?? One more reason for not having a cell phone, or rather having one but no phone number

If you're resisting arrest, then yeah, you probably won't want to carry your cell-phone. But if you're an average day joe, does it really matter? They'll need a lot more evidence then you were in the area to get a conviction.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227943)

Do they? In Houston, the crime lab basically fabricated evidence in several departments: dna, ballistics, maybe even a few others. People got up on the stand and testified about procedures that were never performed. Who knows, maybe some little girl will get raped and you'll be the only cellphone toting person in the area at the time. They'll ask you for a semen sample, and you'll give it to them knowing that you're fully innocent and have nothing to worry about, but surprise surprise, it just happens to match the semen stain they "just discovered" on the girl's skirt. It's easier to look "tough on crime" for that re-election campaign when you can just hunt for idiots instead of real criminals. And hey, when some other girl gets raped by the real criminal, they'll just say "gee, I guess crime is going up. We need a bigger budget."

It's tough being so cynical about an organization thats supposed to be protecting us, but living in Houston, I can say that they've earned every last bit of it.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228010)

you'll be the only cellphone toting person in the area at the time.

Yeah, and an asteroid might also fall on your head and kill you.

What you're talking about is extremely rare and unlikely event that is so improbable that it's lunacy to worry about it.

Get on with your lives, people!

Re:Criminals are tracked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228425)

It's amazing how worried so many people are about such things, when they aren't worried about their elections being tampered with, and they don't seem to care that their leaders lie to them.

Look guys, if you start working to NOT get evil/bad leaders in the first place then you won't have to worry about evil/bad leaders taking advantage of such stuff.

If you get such leaders, I doubt the lack of such technologies will save you. Look at history for examples.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228510)

Amusing that you're attacking the idea of being the only cellphone user in the area at the time. Ever go jogging, alone? Now imagine that someone reports a breakin along your route. Cops have you running towards it at the time of the breakin, and away from it afterwards (within about 3 football fields so it's not even like it has to be on the same street as you). All the other cellphone users are travelling 30mph so they're in their cars, or stationary so they're in their house. You have the misfortune of being the only one on foot. Doubly so if you "don't belong", say jogging in a neighboring subdivision, as I do since ours is somewhat hostile to foot traffic (no sidewalks).

Re:Criminals are tracked? (2, Insightful)

exiant (937753) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227909)

300 yards...take into account that's THREE football fields.

In a city like Chicago, that's a lot of ground to cover.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (1)

mejesster (813444) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227985)

SO TURN YOUR PHONE OFF.

Re:Criminals are tracked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228630)

Nowadays it can be done with phones turned off as well, at least in Europe. I'd be *very* surprised if that wasn't the case in the US.

(posting anon because I'm paranoid)

Re:Criminals are tracked? (0)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228121)

Yes - they can turn the microphone on remotely and listen to what you and your jailmates are talking about too - same as with any other phone...

Re:Criminals are tracked? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228642)

Not true for GSM. In order to turn on the microphone, you have to send the phone a setup message after its been assigned to a traffic channel. This also causes the mobile to enter the alerting state, which is when the phone usually triggers its ringer. This is obviously not useful for surveillence. however, other protocols (CDMA, IDEN, etc) may allow the microphone to be enabled without causing the ringer to go off

GOOGLE IS BROKEN!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227887)

As of 8:34 am EST on 10 Dec 2005, Google has been broken. WTF?!?

As a rule of thumb... (5, Informative)

Chris Bradshaw (933608) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227896)

Below is a link to more info on which phones allow you to turn these features off, etc...

http://www.spywareinfo.com/articles/cell_phones/ [spywareinfo.com]

As a general rule, I always turn off the location settings on my phone. Sprint has had this feature enabled by default for the past 3 years, and it wasn't until recently that I learned I was broadcasting my whereabouts 24x7.

Re:As a rule of thumb... (3, Informative)

spacefight (577141) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227910)

While you can turn this feature off, the cell phone providers can till track you as they own and control the network.

Re:As a rule of thumb... (4, Insightful)

matthew.thompson (44814) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227916)

This is something slightly different. All networks can triangulate signals to a degree - based on the antenna array that most networks use, signal strength, location of transmitter etc they don't need the phone to support anything.

The E911 service is, I believe, an implementation of AGPS where the phone assists in tracking to get an even closer match.

Re:As a rule of thumb... (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227922)

That turns off the GPS tracking. However the cell company can still figure out roughly where you are, because they know which tower your phone is talking to. It's less accurate, but still possible.

Re:As a rule of thumb... (1)

happyduckworks (683158) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227993)

Furthermore, they pretty much have to keep track of some history of which towers your phone has been talking to, in order to make efficient use of their resources. E.g., where to direct calls to when someone calls your cell phone. So it's not a matter of getting the phone companies not to keep track of this information. It has to be a legal thing where the government can only get the information if there is probable cause, just as with other kinds of search warrants.

What if you dont't have a montly service plan... (1)

xTantrum (919048) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228460)

i have a pay as you go service and i know when i request call logs, they've told me that they don't keep it for pay as you go customers. does anyone know anything about this? I still have the same phone from five years ago so i don't remember the procedure, but when i bought my phone, i bought the phone versus a phone and a plan then i bought some pay as you go vouchers, i don't remember my name being on anything...i could be wrong. I use a well known carrier in canada.

E911 (2, Informative)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227980)

As a general rule, I always turn off the location settings on my phone.

That will help but it won't solve the problem even if you manage to turn out any kind of E911 [wikipedia.org] related GPS system (I am assuming that is what you are talking about) that may be built into your mobile phone. The thing is that every time that you use the phone your service provider can still track your location since they know which GSM cell you are in and they can even roughly position you within the cell without ever retrieving any location data from your phone. This is done by using data retrieved from the GSM trancievers in each cell which allows your sevice provider or anybody they are cooperating with to approximately calculate your location. They can even trigger interactions with your phone to discover your location without you ever using it, of course this only works if you keep it switched on all the time. Then of course there are military systems used for tracking GSM phones (among other things) which are much more powerful.

Patriot Act (4, Insightful)

headkase (533448) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227897)

You know, when the police don't need warrents for searches your country is called a police state. On a related note, nice to see the patriot[sic] act extended for another four years.

Re:Patriot Act (1)

damian cosmas (853143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227982)

What exactly is the problem with allowing the police to use cellphone tracking with probable cause? It's only the same standard required before they get a search warrant, and still a few steps short of your oh-so-precisely-defined poilce state.

Re:Patriot Act (0)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228223)

What exactly is the problem with allowing the police to use cellphone tracking with probable cause? It's only the same standard required before they get a search warrant, and still a few steps short of your oh-so-precisely-defined poilce state.

Let's change a few words and see if this sentance still makes sense.

What exactly is the problem with allowing people to fly with simple knowladge of how to do so. It's only the same standard required before they get a pilots license, and still a few steps short of your oh-so-precisely-defined air traffic chaos.

Re:Patriot Act (3, Funny)

damian cosmas (853143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228310)

And I'll change some more words and see if the new sentence makes any sense.

What exactly is the problem with allowing herrings to run for election with simple knowladge[sic] of how to solve quadratic equations. It's only the same standard required before they get a pilots hat, and still a few steps short of your oh-so-precisely-defined canard.

I can change words (and spell them correctly!), too, so what's your point?

Re:Patriot Act (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228543)

I can change words (and spell them correctly!), too, so what's your point?

That you have no clear understanding of jurisprudence.

Re:Patriot Act (1)

damian cosmas (853143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228724)

If that's your point, then you did a poor job of demonstrating it. One doesn't need a court order to get a pilot's license, and, in addition to being able to fly, one needs to demonstrate that ability in both written and practical tests given by a person certified to do so. Similarly, in order to get a search warrant, you need to convince a judge that you have probable cause. If jurisprudence consists of making ill-fitting analogies followed by ad hominem attacks, as you seem to believe, then perhaps GWB should have nominated you for the open seat on SCOTUS. Your analogy is flawed, and proves only your ignorance.

Re:Patriot Act (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228823)

I'm being called ignorent by someone who suggested that the police should be allowed to track you without obtaining a warrent, as "It's only the same standard required before they get a search warrant". Do you think the police should be allowed to search your house without a warrent as "It's only the same standard required before they get a search warrant"?

Please google for "Magna Carta". Good day.

Re:Patriot Act (1)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228765)

if you have probable cause you can get a warrant, the OP was complaining about searches not requiring a warrant

Re:Patriot Act (0, Offtopic)

hcob$ (766699) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228012)

Wow, I think you need to write lyrics for green day... why don't you just get over yourself?

Re:USAPATRIOT Act (1)

Hal9000_sn3 (707590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228069)

There is no 'Patriot' act. There is a USAPATRIOT act. It is a 'Patriot' act about as much as it is a 'U SAP A RIOT' act.

Re:USAPATRIOT Act (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228234)

Thank you for making that irrelevant point that added no value to this discussion. I'll make a note not to invite you to my next dinner party.

Re:Patriot Act (1)

mac2001 (883746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228183)

Thanks for the sig! more of that for them... me, we, are just units, but of the big thingy... nature! yuppi! do not mad, I mean, do not mod. I'm happy with my bad karma :P

GPS (1)

joepeg (87984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227899)

Not totally familiar with cellular technology...
How different is this from GPS? And is this a cheaper alternative that could be provided for cell phone users wanting GPS on their cell phones?

Re:GPS (1)

The Lerneaen Hydra (885793) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227945)

This is not GPS, this is your cell-phone provider tracking where you are, down to a resolution most likely more detailed than 300 yards. This is the police wanting details of where you are without a very important reason.

Some cases it is (1)

EdwinBoyd (810701) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228003)

Almost all newer model LG phones come with a rudimentary GPS unit in them. Some models (5550) even allow you to see your co-ordinates. I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes more common, why build up a whole new tracking infrastructure when a proven one already exists.

Re:GPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228570)

Not exactly like GPS...but will eventually be used by service providers to SPAM you.

While you're walking down the street with your phone in your pocket and it suddenly gives you the all familar indicator that you have a new message. You reach in, open the phone and see that the "Local expensive coffee shop across the street ... just invited you in for a cup of joe".

Do phone companies save that info? (3, Interesting)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227903)

That info could also clear you of a crime.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227932)

Yeah, even if you're guilty. Just stash your phone somewhere else, instant alibi.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227975)

Don't worry, the first time someone tries to use it as a defense, the prosecutor will claim that they gave the cellphone to a friend to use as an alibi.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (1)

ShaggyB (849018) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227995)

That info could also clear you of a crime.

It could also be used as your alibi. Say I leave my cell home and then go rob a bank. No officer it wasn't me, I was at home. See, my cellphone records show me to be home.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228007)

It's not quite that straightforward.

Do you have missed calls? Was the phone moving but not near the scene of the crime? If you talked to people on the phone, would they vouche for it.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (2, Interesting)

Pembers (250842) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228011)

True. Bear in mind that this kind of system proves where your phone was - not necessarily where you were.

I know of at least one case where positioning information from a mobile has helped to clear someone, that of Damilola Taylor [bbc.co.uk] . Four youngsters were accused of murdering an 11-year-old boy. A mobile belonging to one of the defendants was used two miles from the scene of the crime, seven minutes beforehand, and it seemed there was no way he could have covered the distance quickly enough. (It later transpired that there was a shortcut that the prosecution didn't know about or didn't consider.)

The main reason the defendants were cleared was actually that a key prosecution witness was found to have lied about something. The judge decided that her testimony was unreliable and ordered the jury to acquit two of the defendants. They later found the other two not guilty.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (1)

eyeball (17206) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228245)

BUT.. if you were falsely accused of something, would a defense attorney have equal access to this type of evidence?

And if it were, how easy would it be (legally) for this type of information to be used for civil cases? Why can I easily see a situation where someone is caught selling pirated DVDs at a flea market, and the MPAA subpoena's phone records of anyone who was in that area..

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228859)

if you were falsely accused of something, would a defense attorney have equal access to this type of evidence?

IIRC, the prosecutor has to give such evidence to the defense.

That doesn't necessarily mean a prosecutor won't withhold evidence - but they're not supposed to.

Re:Do phone companies save that info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228303)

Yes, the phone companies log all that info (cell tower location, signal strength, etc). I know this because it is in the pile of evidence from my brother's lawyer that the police are trying to use against him.

We Need to Expand the Patriot Act, Then (5, Funny)

Prototerm (762512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227914)

We can't have people's civil rights get in the way of law enforcement. We need to change the law to keep the courts out of this. The courts have no right getting involved in these matters.

*That'll* fix those Satanic, Evolution-loving, Commie Terrorists!

(/tongue in cheek)

There, I believe I've insulted enough Conservatives for one day. I'll go now.

Re:We Need to Expand the Patriot Act, Then (1)

tlynch001 (917597) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228009)

"Satanic, Evolution-loving, Commie Terrorists!"

I took care of the communists horde for you during the 80's. You kids need to step up and take care of the terrorists.

OMG I feel so much safer now... (2, Interesting)

Chaffar (670874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227918)

"In recent years, law enforcement officials have turned to cellular technology as a tool for easily and secretly monitoring the movements of suspects as they occur. But this kind of surveillance - which investigators have been able to conduct with easily obtained court orders - has now come under tougher legal scrutiny."

In the last four months, three federal judges have denied prosecutors the right to get cellphone tracking information

So if I got this right, in recent years our rights were outright ignored, all this while in the name of the fight against terror even more legislation hindering our rights were regularly called for. And now I'm supposed to feel better because of THREE recents cases where judges actually did their jobs? Dunno, I don't have A.D.D, I'm lucid enough to see a situation of "three steps back, one step forward" when I see one.

Right on! (1)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228026)

I keep hearing that the terrorists want to take out freedom, but the only people who are taking our freedom are the legislative and executive branches of Gov., while the judicial just aids and abets. And in the meantime, our boys are dying overseas "fighting for freedome".

A choice I'm willing to take is to have our government protect out freedoms and I'll just take whatever comes from the terrorists. If our freedoms are going to be taken away, what's the point anymore?

Re:OMG I feel so much safer now... (2, Informative)

mpe (36238) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228054)

So if I got this right, in recent years our rights were outright ignored, all this while in the name of the fight against terror even more legislation hindering our rights were regularly called for.

With there being little to no evidence that this increase in legislation will actually do anything to make terrorism less likely. Maybe rights hindering legislation isn't the best way to address the issue in the first place, even if it is maybe it isn't the general public who should be having their rights hindered.

And now I'm supposed to feel better because of THREE recents cases where judges actually did their jobs?

Together with an unknown number of cases where judges didn't. Together with the problem that judges generally arn't those holding people in custody in the first place.

What would Elmer say? (3, Funny)

DumbSwede (521261) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227920)

When I see "Cell Phone Tracking" I can't help but think of Elmer Fud saying, "Be wery wery quite. I'm tracking cell phones. He, he, he"

Re:What would Elmer say? (1)

MrCopilot (871878) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228292)

I think you meant cew-u-war twacking .

Be Vehwey Vehwey qwyit I'm twacking Celw phones. Hu huh huh huhhhhh

Re:What would Elmer say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228566)

When I see "Cell Phone Tracking" I can't help but think of Elmer Fud saying, "Be wery wery quite. I'm tracking cell phones. He, he, he"

Now picture good ol' Elmer wearing a badge. Then you're not too far away from the real picture.

What's being tracked... (5, Insightful)

reddish (646830) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227941)

'Cellular operators like Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless know, within about 300 yards, the location of their subscribers whenever a phone is turned on.'

They may be able to track the location of the telephone, or the SIM card,/b> but not the subscriber.

A different thing alltogether - if you think about it. This cannot be used to locate a suspect on a crime scene, only her phone.

Re:What's being tracked... (1)

unknownideal (881232) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227955)

You realize you can take your cellphone with you, right? In fact, you'd be surprised how many people do just that!

Re:What's being tracked... (1)

eqisow (877574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228248)

I think the point was that if they tried to use it as evidence it would be very easy to claim you did not have your phone with you. (Lost, stolen, etc)

Re:What's being tracked... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228519)

Except of course I wager the point is that they'd find you quickly enough with the cell phone ON YOU, negating the ability to lie, and throwing it when you see the cops charging you and the phone is 100 feet away wouldn't qualify for the "I lost it" aliby.

These denials are not good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14227942)

These denials by the court judges is not good at all. This will lead to a law that permits law enforcement agencies to track cell phones without the courts approval.

Not too ambiguous (5, Insightful)

unknownideal (881232) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227969)

"If I'm on an investigation and I need to know where somebody is located who might be committing a crime . . ."

I don't see what everyone's worried about. They just want to track anyone who might be commiting a crime.

Re:Not too ambiguous (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228144)

Hmm, never heard of voice analysis have you? You can turn the microphone on, listen to everything going on around the phone and identify the speakers.

Re:Not too ambiguous (2, Informative)

jacksonj04 (800021) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228211)

You can't remotely enable a phone's microphone using standard GSM. The phone would need to have a specific command code to remotely enable the microphone, and there is no concievable value in such a feature.

Basically (The following is for UK, ymmv), when you ring someone your phone negotiates with the network, establishes a voice channel to dial the number and *then* turns on your microphone so background noises don't interfere with dialing tones. When people ring you, your phone may turn the microphone on if you have voice answering (For example, you just say "answer" on a handsfree without needing to push anything) but it won't establish a voice channel until it actively picks up the call.

Re:Not too ambiguous (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228694)

when you ring someone your phone negotiates with the network, establishes a voice channel to dial the number and *then* turns on your microphone so background noises don't interfere with dialing tones

Why the hell would a digital cell phone standard use dialing tones to dial a number in this day and age? please tell me that gsm can say "connect to: 234-5678".

Re:Not too ambiguous (1)

unknownideal (881232) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228717)

Yeah, because everyone is a potential criminal, especially everyone standing in the vicinity of a potential criminal.

Search warrants? (3, Interesting)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 8 years ago | (#14227976)

Shouldn't they need a search warrant (that requires probable cause) to get any of my information from the phone company? It mentions a warrant of some kind was needed. Shouldn't probable cause be required for all warrants? Want to search my home? The police need probable cause. Want to search my bank records, I'd like to hope you need probable cause. Want to find out who I've rung up? I hope you need probable cause. Want to follow me, I'd hope you need probable cause.

If I'm on an investigation and I need to know where somebody is located who might be committing a crime, or, worse, might have a hostage, real-time knowledge of where this person is could be a matter of life or death."

Let's pretend he doesn't have a phone. Don't you need probable cause to search through his belongings (home/work-place/car)? Tough luck mate. But you can't just screw people over in the name of national security. Well, at least you couldn't.....

corroborating their whereabouts with witness accounts

Well get probable cause. Sheeesh. Or ask the person to give the police permission to look at his phone record location.

or helping build a case for a wiretap on the phone

Wait, you want to be able to access someone's phone records willy-nilly, so you can build up a case to access their phone records even more? Am I the only one to think this is crazy?

And the government is not required to report publicly when it makes such requests.

Now that's scary. I can understand them wanting to keep it quiet at the time it's happening, but come on. A week, or at most a month, should be sufficient time to no longer be crucial, especially if you're using it to obtain a hostage or arrest them. The only reason to keep it secret indefinitely is so you can to pull the wool over people's eyes as you widdle away their civil liberties.

Prosecutors, while acknowledging that they have to get a court order before obtaining real-time cell-site data, argue that the relevant standard is found in a 1994 amendment to the 1986 Stored Communications Act, a law that governs some aspects of cellphone surveillance.

That's a joke. How could the congressmen in 1986 have any idea what sort of application and usage cell-phones would have 10 years in the future? They probably gave wide-powers to the police, because at the time, it wasn't possible (and perhaps not even thinkable) for them to use those powers. You can't blame them for not forseeing the future, and to claim they did and that the law should still be used is ridiculous. That's like claiming the right to bear arms in the constitution gives every citizen the right to have nuclear weapons. There was no way nuclear weapons were invisaged when America was formed.

The standard calls for the government to show "specific and articulable facts" that demonstrate that the records sought are "relevant and material to an ongoing investigation" - a standard lower than the probable-cause hurdle.

The language is very telling. "Oh it's just a necessity in our way. We don't need to worry about that." I believe perhaps the standard should be raised, especially with an opinion like that.

Prosecutors in the recent cases also unsuccessfully argued that the expanded police powers under the USA Patriot Act could be read as allowing cellphone tracking under a standard lower than probable cause.

God bless us. Every one. (Thankfully they have been unsuccessful, although is that 100% of the time? I don't think so.)

In the digital era, what's on the envelope and what's inside of it, "have absolutely blurred," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group.

And so the prosecution predictably wants it to be treated as if it were all on the envelope.

And that makes it harder for courts to determine whether a certain digital surveillance method invokes Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

I'd think it's rather simple. Do any human eyes have to look at it for the message to be sent? Because with envelopes, they do need human eyes to see it. But with it being digital, a reasonable person would expect no-one but the receiver to look at it, or even know a message was sent.

Mr. Fishman of Catholic University said that such a requirement could hamper law enforcement's ability to act quickly because of the paperwork required to show probable cause. But Mr. Fishman said he also believed that the current law was unclear on the issue.

Yeah, like actually getting probable cause. I've heard that can be a real bitch to do along with all the paperwork.

"Something that they've been able to use quite successfully and usefully is being taken away from them or made harder to get," Mr. Fishman said. "I'd be very, very frustrated."

I can understand that, but the thing is, they should never have had it originally.

Re:Search warrants? (1)

damian cosmas (853143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228038)

That's a joke. How could the congressmen in 1986 have any idea what sort of application and usage cell-phones would have 10 years in the future? They probably gave wide-powers to the police, because at the time, it wasn't possible (and perhaps not even thinkable) for them to use those powers. You can't blame them for not forseeing the future, and to claim they did and that the law should still be used is ridiculous. That's like claiming the right to bear arms in the constitution gives every citizen the right to have nuclear weapons. There was no way nuclear weapons were invisaged when America was formed.

Read what you quoted. That particular piece of legislation was amended in 1994.

Prosecutors in the recent cases also unsuccessfully argued that the expanded police powers under the USA Patriot Act could be read as allowing cellphone tracking under a standard lower than probable cause.

God bless us. Every one. (Thankfully they have been unsuccessful, although is that 100% of the time? I don't think so.)

Here's a standard lower than probable cause:

Reasonable Suspicion, which is the standard used by the police to stop and search an individual. Not a very strong standard, but certainly a few steps above of willy-nilly.

Re:Search warrants? (1)

cfulmer (3166) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228280)

(1) You do not need a warrant to search every area.
(2) You do generally need probable cause to support a warrant.
(3) Some searches do not require even probable cause. Heck, some searches just happen with no suspicion at all.

Examples:

You can search a car if you have probable cause, but you don't need a warrant.
If you're impounding a car, you can search the whole thing, as long as you have a policy of doing so.
If you're conducting an administrative inspection (say of a Nuclear Power Plant), you don't need a warrant.
With "Articulable suspicion," you can stop somebody, talk to them and frisk them for weapons.
Schoolchildren can be searched without a warrant and with something less than probable cause.
If you've been taken in for a DUI, the cops can take your blood without a warrant.
You can search people and cars coming into the US with much less than probable cause.
You do not need a search warrant to go through garbage somebody puts out at the curb.
You do not need a search warrant to find out the telephone numbers that somebody dialed. (You generally need one for the conversation.)

Re:Search warrants? (1)

_LORAX_ (4790) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228393)

"You can search a car if you have probable cause, but you don't need a warrant."
Only if a police officer stops you while you are driving. They also must show cause and cannot search any area of the vehicle that the driver does not have access to ( possibly the trunk ).

"If you're impounding a car, you can search the whole thing, as long as you have a policy of doing so."
If the police have an item in their posession they have the right to search it.

"If you're conducting an administrative inspection (say of a Nuclear Power Plant), you don't need a warrant."
This is something completly different than what is being discussed. It has nothing to do with the police.

"With "Articulable suspicion," you can stop somebody, talk to them and frisk them for weapons."
No shit... but frisking someone is a whole lot different than tracking thier every moverments.

"Schoolchildren can be searched without a warrant and with something less than probable cause."
Again, children are in the care of the school and the school generlly allows the searches. Nothing to see here, please move along.

"If you've been taken in for a DUI, the cops can take your blood without a warrant."
Depends on the state. Many do not allow blood without a warrant, but failing to give blood is evidence against you at trial.

"You can search people and cars coming into the US with much less than probable cause."
Regular police action and customs are two totally different items. They are held to two very different standards. Once again, not the police.

"You do not need a search warrant to go through garbage somebody puts out at the curb."
Depends on the local laws. Generally if you throw it away you loose control of the item.

"You do not need a search warrant to find out the telephone numbers that somebody dialed. (You generally need one for the conversation.)"
The records are NOT privledged and not under your control. The phone comapny COULD choose not to comply until police get a warrant, but generally they do not.

Re:Search warrants? (1)

troll (4326) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228458)

Probable cause (PC) requires, I believe, 'fruits of crime'. Something tangible. A bashed-in skull, an expired license tag, ... In other words something has to have been done. It is not a preventative measure. I'd sure like the good guys looking after some one on a lower standard of proof, such as reasonable suspicion so no one gets hurt.

Probable Cause, Reasonable Suspicion, Bah Humbug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228650)

In actual practice now we're in the 21st century, the need for probably cause reasonable suspicion, etc, only apply if the law enforcement personnel in question expect to be able to use the evidence/intelligence they're gathering in court. When they're simply on a fishing expedition, things like warrantless clandestine searches, electronic eavesdropping and other various forms of non-invasive invasions of privacy such as millimeter wave imaging devices, IR thru-the-wall imaging, lasers bounced off window panes to record audio inside buildings, super telephoto lenses from hell, etc., are all routinely used with impunity. Who's going to stop them? Who's going to police the police?

Big Brother law coming to Europe next week... (4, Interesting)

pieterh (196118) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228023)

The European Commission and Parliament have done a deal which looks set to introduce a law that makes this kind of tracking a daily part of police work.

The "Data Retention Directive" proposes tracking all mobile phone and Internet usage, and storing this for 2 years, and (worst) making it available to police and other parties (possibly commercial ones), without much regard to existing privacy laws.

There is an FFII press release on this subject: http://wiki.ffii.de/DataRetPr051205En [wiki.ffii.de] .

The FFII and EDRI are fighting this in the Parliament, but the directive has been shoved through very brutally by the Council, led by the UK. Basically the bureaucrats of the Commission, unhindered by any European Constitution, are creating laws by stealth, and this Big Brother directive is symptomatic of a take over of the national legislative processes by an group of unelected, unaccountable officials.

The UK Presidency had proposed a very brutal law, which went as far as requiring the logging of the MAC address of every computer connected to the Internet (yes, that blew me away too), and using the Good Cop/ Bad Cop approach, bullied the Parliament into accepting a "compromise" agreement that dropped all the references to terrorism, and added a bunch of waffle about human rights, but basically creates a pan-European database of every cellphone call, and every Internet communication. I've not yet had time to see whether TCP/IP end-points are also logged, but the original proposals definitely requested this.

Europe is rapidly turning into a police state that makes the US look like a haven of freedom and civil rights. The rejection of the European Constitution by the French and Dutch voters, though a nicely symbolic act, have left a power vacuum into which the grey bureaucrats of the Commission have stepped.

Ok, but what about getting info from other sources (2, Interesting)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228117)

What I'm thinking of here are all of the businesses that make use of cellphone GPS tracking as part of their normal operation. (EG. Most courier services in my area issue drivers Nextel 2-way radio/phones and track their location constantly via the phone's GPS system. The results are dumped into some routing software that dispatch uses to figure out who is closest to a customer calling in to have a delivery picked up.)

Even if legislation is written up that specifically prevents govt. and police from obtaining this type of info from the *cellular companies* without a warrant, would the same apply if they wanted it from a private business?

Its not just cellular phones (3, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228155)

As people have pointed out, there are good and bad reasons that location information might be used. But it applies to tons of other things too. Say you get a WiFi capable PDA or music player, the same location information is available from those networks. Your WiFi connected laptop is also trackable, as is your pager, and soon, also your new car.

There will be those that learn to foil such tracking attempts, and so, in the end, the only people that can't be tracked are the people that should be.... which again means lots of money spent for little or no value... EXCEPT that Google and others will take advantage of that and offer us services and goods for free if we listen to the location based advertising. Yes, as you drive past the McD's your cell phone will ring with an SMS messsage containing a 15 percent off coupon for a happy meal if you buy in the next 11 minutes.

That is the reason that location tracking will continue to grow... not because of the police.

That Pesky probable cause. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228256)

One of the last things keeping us from becoming a police state.

Get priorities right. (3, Informative)

TheLink (130905) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228489)

People should stop focusing on the _last_ things keeping them from becoming a police state, and start focusing on the _first_ things.

Starting with very dubious electronic voting machines and who you vote as leaders.

Once you get too many of the wrong people in power, they can change all that stuff very quickly. Look at the Patriot Act, and all the recent crappy laws with dangerous long term consequences.

If citizens keep sticking their heads in the sand (or erm troughs of junk food?), the leaders can basically do what they want with impunity.

Even if you don't allow tracking now, Mr Evil Dictator can always turn it back on, once he's in power.

So the main thing is to never allow Mr Evil Dictator a chance to get power in the first place.

It is quite scary and sad that history has proven that many people will actually be willing to listen to some evil person and give him the power. These people will willingly kill anybody - even their relatives or parents/children just because "it's their job" or the supreme leader told them to.

Re:Get priorities right. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228634)

Never said i wasnt fighting to keep what we have, it was just a comment that 'probable cause' is one of the few things we havent lost to date, as our constitution gets shredded around us.

However one can debate if its really a farce at this stage of the game, now that the patriot act pretty much did away with it in cases of 'national security'. ( whatever that means )

what privacy? ;) (1)

brys (151801) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228599)

It`s 25 meters for 900MHz and about 10 meters for 1200MHz. And cell phone can be located even when it`s turned off but with working batteries.
If cell phones have this cool feature there is no way that someone will not make some use them, hehehe :)
Two years ago it was possible to do this without assistance of GSM operator with $20.000 worth GSM sniffer / tracker device. Now it is somewhat harded but still posible.
Pre GSM phones where not using any real encryption at all and everyone was happy hehehe ;)

Already commercially available, I use it (1)

badzilla (50355) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228730)

You can already track the location of a cellphone. There are many service providers but the one I use is http://www.fleetonline.net/ [fleetonline.net] You do need one-time physical access to a cellphone you want to track but other than that it's just a matter of paying a small fee per location-request. Accuracy depends on geographical factors but it's generally pretty good.

Who cares if it is agianst the constitution? (1)

InfinityEdge (9122) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228746)

GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. [capitolhillblue.com]

"I don't give a goddamn," Bush retorted. "I'm the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way."

"Mr. President," one aide in the meeting said. "There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution."

"Stop throwing the Constitution in my face," Bush screamed back. "It's just a goddamned piece of paper!"

why bother with cell phone tracking??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14228826)

because more people have cellphones then this idea -
http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/12/06/01 47250&tid=158&tid=215 [slashdot.org] - and the LEA have to start somewhere NOW before it is too late*.

*late for what i don't know

More Like 300 Inches (2, Informative)

RedLion (100769) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228830)

300 yards? I'm one of the guys that sets up and tweaks the E911 Wireless Location System for Cingular & T-Mobile. I can tell you for a fact that once I get the network properly honed, the system will determine the lat/long to within about 300 inches of the 911 caller's handset.

Only valid use I can think of... (1)

kadathseeker (937789) | more than 8 years ago | (#14228854)

...is using this to track kidnapped people. Unless this technology is being used to protect people directly, it is just a telescreen (from 1984).
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