[IP] E-tracking through your cell phone

David Farber dave at farber.net
Tue Feb 14 10:36:00 PST 2006

E-tracking through your cell phone
By Declan McCullagh

Story last modified Mon Feb 13 06:24:49 PST 2006

You may already know this, but your cell phone happens to be a miniature
tracking device that can be used to monitor your location from afar.

There are times when knowing your exact location is useful, of
course. It
would be handy for a phone to help you find a gas station in a pinch, or
bleep when you're about to take the wrong highway exit.

But the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have seized on the
ability to
locate a cellular customer and are using it to track Americans'
surreptitiously--even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing.

A pair of court decisions in the last few weeks shows that judges are
on whether this is legal. One federal magistrate judge in Wisconsin
on Jan.
17 ruled it was unlawful, but another nine days later in Louisiana
that it was perfectly OK.

This is an unfortunate outcome, not least because it shows that some
are reluctant to hold federal agents and prosecutors to the letter of

It's also unfortunate because it demonstrates that the FBI swore
never to
use a 1994 surveillance law to track cellular phones--but then,
went ahead and did it, anyway.

FBI officials swore never to use a 1994 surveillance law to track
phones but are doing it, anyway.

When lobbying for that law, the Communications Assistance for Law
Enforcement Act, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh assured the U.S.
Senate that
location surveillance would never take place unless there was
evidence of

"It does not include any information which might disclose the general
location of a mobile facility or service, beyond that associated with
area code or exchange of the facility or service," Freeh testified .
is no intent whatsoever, with reference to this term, to acquire
that could properly be called 'tracking' information."

So much for promises from politicians.


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