Friday, November 05, 2010
Your cell phone tracks your location in great detail and accuracy even when not used
by Larry Geller
A series of cases have revealed that just carrying a cell phone turns your life into “a continuous reality TV show…exposing … a person’s movements, activities, and associations in relentless detail.” Like the dotted line in a Family Circus cartoon panel, your cell phone shows exactly where you have been. Also when, and how long, you were there.
An article on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Federal Judge Finds Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking Unconstitutional, (11/4/2010), reveals the extent, detail and accuracy with which cell phone companies already track users. And that accuracy is increasing.
One case made it clear that just carrying a cell phone means your life is tracked in minute detail by your cell carrier:
According to Judge Smith, “the Government seeks continuous location data to track the target phone over a two month period, whether the phone was in active use or not.” This is notable because the cell tracking applications we have seen previously only sought location information for those moments when an individual actually made a phone call.
Location accuracy has also improved. It may be possible to tell which room in your own home you are in from cell tower data or form a phone’s internal GPS chip.
What does this mean? It means that there are recordings kept of exactly how long you stayed at home, where you went each and every day, and how long you stayed there. The record indicates where you went, where you slept, which restaurants you like to visit. With a computer, access to this data can tell whom you met, if that person also had a cell phone, by correlating your location with their data.
So there is data that can tell whom you met at Zippy’s for lunch, and whom you slept with the other night, all stored in your cell carrier’s data banks.
While the courts dispute whether the government needs warrants to look at this information, the fact that these records are being kept is troublesome enough.
If you plan on visiting your mistress, best to leave your cell phone at home. Did you visit the liquor store that night? What exactly were you doing in Chinatown at 2:05 a.m. (“Your honor, I was looking for rats…”). Sure, tell it to the judge.
We all know that data wants to be free, there is always a risk that private information can escape without your knowledge. Regardless of whether courts decide that a warrant is necessary for government to look at it, the government may simply look first and get their warrants later, if at all.
Good move. But you know that they can still track you by cell tower triangulation. I have heard that the GPS unit on some phones can be turned on remotely, but I don't know if I believe that and have not checked.