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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Can You Track Me Now?

I've been trying to stick mainly to economics, but what the heck, it's the weekend. I knew cellphone calls could be tracked from cell records, but it hadn't occurred to me that they can track a phone's position even when it's not in use:

Live Tracking of Mobile Phones Prompts Court Fights on Privacy, by Matt Richtel, NY Times: Most Americans carry cellphones, but many may not know that government agencies can track their movements through the signals emanating from the handset... as a tool for easily and secretly monitoring the movements of suspects... 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 ... 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 ... know, within about 300 yards, the location of their subscribers whenever a phone is turned on. Even if the phone is not in use it is communicating with cellphone tower sites, and the wireless provider keeps track of the phone's position as it travels. The operators have said that they turn over location information when presented with a court order to do so.

Prosecutors ... 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. 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 magistrate judges, however, ruled that surveillance by cellphone - because it acts like an electronic tracking device that can follow people into ... personal spaces - must meet the same high legal standard required to obtain a search warrant to enter private places. ...

This may not be the best example, but I worry that, in the name of safety and security, our personal freedom and privacy is slowly being eroded away and once we lose each piece, we will never get them back. Never. The main argument I hear when I raise this is something like "Why should I care, I have nothing to hide, and it will catch the bad guys. That makes me more, not less free." I usually try to explain why they should care, and often get a look that says "Crime-loving liberal idiot." I am going to keep trying though because I think this is important, hence the post. [Update: Related.]

    Posted by on Saturday, December 10, 2005 at 10:17 AM in Miscellaneous | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6)

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