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Mass Cell Phone Tracking

Posted 15 Feb 2010 | Comments Off on Mass Cell Phone Tracking | 64 views

According to a CNET article, the Department of Justice is attempting to gain access to cell phone tower data. The government is not requesting access to specific call records, but is instead asking for connection records from various en mass without a warrant. This type of data can be used to determine which people were near certain towers based on their cell phones location. In addition, the approximate location of specific cell phones can be determined by triangulating the data against multiple towers.

The FBI used the data from cell phone towers near several banks that had been robbed. After sorting through the data, they were able to isolate two cell phones that were in the area for 12 of the 20 bank robberies. As a result, the two cell phone owners were convicted.

The current case is being fought over the privacy expectations of cell phone users. Do cell phone users have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they carry a cell phone. The Justice Department is arguing that there is no expectation of privacy. Watchdog groups such as the EFF argue that mass data collection without a warrant is a privacy violation. Some have suggested that the data is ripe for abuse. The data would ensnare many innocent phone owners in dragnet style investigations, and that the possibility of watch lists (all cell phones near a protest site) is too alluring for the FBI and the Justice Department.

Just to play devil’s advocate, would the federal government mind if the roles were reversed? Assuming that there are no privacy issues that need to be worked out, would they mind a web page detailing the approximate locations of government funded cell phones (excluding those related to national security and such). There are quiet a few people who would mind ensuring that government employees are not spending to much time at the local coffee shop or at the theater.

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