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Feds Have Access To Cellphone Tracking On Request 140

Posted by Zonk
from the always-fun-to-carry-your-phone dept.
Mike writes "According to a Washington Post article, federal officials are routinely asking and getting courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data on subscribers. The data is used to pinpoint the whereabouts of 'criminal suspects', according to judges and industry lawyers. In some cases, judges have granted the requests without even requiring the government to demonstrate probable cause that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime 'Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives. Such requests run counter to the Justice Department's internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government's request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied.'"
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Feds Have Access To Cellphone Tracking On Request

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  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:18PM (#21456371) Homepage Journal
    ...and in unrelated news, Reynolds America Inc. ( http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=RAI [yahoo.com] ) reported a rise in their stock price following record sales in their aluminium and tin foil divisions.
    • Re:This just in (Score:5, Interesting)

      by neomunk (913773) on Friday November 23, 2007 @09:07PM (#21458973)
      That's cute.

      The biggest problem with your attempt at humor is the fact that people used to talk about tinfoil hats when people SUGGESTED something like this could happen, now people are delegated to the tinfoil hat crowd for COMPLAINING about this stuff happening.

      When will it get to the point where the people who AREN'T paranoid about being constantly watched are mocked as the fools? Or is this subtle transition between 'you're crazy, that'll never happen' and 'what are you worried about, you're not a terrorist are you?' all the recognition the tinfoil hat people get for being right all along?
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        I don't think he was delegating them to the tinfoil hat crowd, he was just remarking at how many people are attempting to "foil" the feds.
      • by mi (197448)

        The biggest problem with your attempt at humor is the fact that people used to talk about tinfoil hats when people SUGGESTED something like this could happen, now people are delegated to the tinfoil hat crowd for COMPLAINING about this stuff happening.

        And the biggest problem with your attempt at a scare is the failure to articulate, what "this stuff", actually, consists of.

        The Executive government requires the Judicial branch's approval for getting the data from cell-phone companies. Sometimes it gets i

  • Finally, the REAL reason why just about every phone nowadays comes with a built-in GPS receiver...... so the phone can tell the carrier-- and thus the government-- where it is.......
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Finally, the REAL reason why just about every phone nowadays comes with a built-in GPS receiver...... so the phone can tell the carrier-- and thus the government-- where it is.......

      This doesn't require GPS to the best of my (limited) knowledge.

      The cell phone needs to be in contact with a tower in order to have a signal. For billing purposes, they need to know who you are.

      I think this works far more through radio triangulation than GPS. GPS, however, probably makes it easier. Of course, it makes one wond

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by bn0p (656911)
        You are correct. GPS only makes it easier and more accurate to locate a phone. The location services provided by phones and carriers are *intended* for consumer applications (e.g., all those GPS applications your wireless company is willing to sell you) and emergency/911 calls.

        At least for the commercial applications, the software is designed to require a response from the phone saying in effect "Yes, you can determine my location at this time". The software will then use the GPS in the phone (if it i
        • by hazem (472289)
          recently it was used to locate a mother and child attending a concert to let them know that a transplant donor had been located for the child and to get to the hospital.

          Damn them! How dare they have a phone turned on during a concert! By god and all that is right those signals should have been jammed! I don't care if she has a terminal illness... nobody should be able to interrupt my enjoyment of the Teletubbies Christmas Jam! /sarcasm

          • by vux984 (928602)
            Damn them! How dare they have a phone turned on during a concert! By god and all that is right those signals should have been jammed! I don't care if she has a terminal illness... nobody should be able to interrupt my enjoyment of the Teletubbies Christmas Jam! /sarcasm

            Uh... you realize nearly all phones have both a silent and a vibrate mode.

            Moreover, that the ability to locate them like this would be *needed* at all suggests that the phone was at least either silent or off. (Otherwise, they would have just
            • by plover (150551) *
              **** whoosh **** [slashdot.org]

              That was the reference flying right over your head, just above hairline level.

              A few weeks ago, /. had a front-page story called Cell Phone Jamming on the Rise [slashdot.org], talking about how establishments are jamming cell phone frequencies so their customers can have an evening in peace without some idiot yapping away on his cell phone. The sarcasm above was a parody of many of the comments.

        • The bottom line: the government will use whatever information resource it can, be that people, phone call records, GPS, etc... Create more information, the gov't is automatically interested in having at their fingertips.

          Keep in mind, the government can make the right *environment* for all sorts of
          new information to be tracked and provided, by creating laws, incentives, etc... so while the companies generating the information may not have any evil motives, some people in the government (and in criminal organ
        • by HTH NE1 (675604)

          The software is not in and of itself bad - recently it was used to locate a mother and child attending a concert to let them know that a transplant donor had been located for the child and to get to the hospital.
          Gee, I wonder how the next matching child on the recipients list felt about that, and if that child ever got the donor organ he/she required.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by arivanov (12034)
        It does not on GSM (dunno about American specific tech).

        GSM needs to keep track of phone locations very precisely because the primary means of synchronising the phone to the network is by altering the timing advance which tells the phone when to start transmitting.

        3G is nowhere near to GSM in terms of location precision. In uses reflected signals in a positive feedback filter to improve the phone signal to noise ratio. If you look at the data before the filter you cannot make sense of it (it is combined wit
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by memojuez (910304)
      ...and this was done under the guise of "So 911 can find you!"
    • by smithmc (451373) *

        Finally, the REAL reason why just about every phone nowadays comes with a built-in GPS receiver...... so the phone can tell the carrier-- and thus the government-- where it is.......

      My phone has an option to turn off GPS unless I dial 911. Are you saying that this feature doesn't really work? Or that the phone company can override it?

      • by vux984 (928602)
        My phone has an option to turn off GPS unless I dial 911. Are you saying that this feature doesn't really work? Or that the phone company can override it?

        The feature to turn of GPS is likely working. Its reasonably improbable that they'd be able to remotely stealth turn it on.

        However, cellphones talk to multiple towers simultaneously. Carriers can a locate a phone relatively accurately even without GPS. Additionally cellphones regularly communicate with the towers to let the network know where it is, so tha
        • Reasonably improbable? I think not. Most (all newer?) phones can even have just their microphone turned on remotely. I think it is actually "Highly Probable" that GPS features have the same override.
      • by txelky (1112543)
        Not only is there crazy GPS going on, but there was an article about 3 months ago that stated that anyone with a decent radio transmitter can listen to a conversation as long as your cell is on diagnostic mode. The phone doesn't need to be on either.

        If you don't want people to know where you are then don't buy a cell, don't have ccards, don't have an internet connection, don't use a land line. Live in a shack in North Dakota and talk to your family in a set of cans connected by a string.
    • by Aetuneo (1130295)
      Could the same logic be applied to why high-end phones (the iPhone is the only one that comes to mind) don't have user-removable batteries? After all, if you can't cut the power to the phone, the only way to stop being tracked is to throw it away.
    • by hajus (990255)
      I used to work for a company that provided location calculation software to cell companies. Only some companies use GPS for GPS sometimes has a problem in buildings. Some use "Time Difference of Arrival" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilateration [wikipedia.org] which means that your location is calculated by the difference in time that your cell signal takes to hit different cell towers (4 are needed, depending on geometry). Hyperboloids are generated, and their intersection is your position.

      When I worked in this

  • Every day it's either some government agency or some giant corp that is tightening the screws on US citizens. When will there be a tipping point where Joe Apathetic says "enough!" and takes to the streets? It's alarming that so many people are so docile.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's alarming that so many people are so docile.
      What did you do about it today?
    • What exactly makes you think that a revolution will help in any way?

      Meet your new boss, same as old boss. But with bigger guns.
    • by ewhenn (647989)
      Not happening. Joe Apathetic is more worried about his dumb ass ring tones.
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        Maybe Joe Apathetic has a better grasp on the situation and isn't alarmed at everything. Maybe he is one of the old school naive people who still think the government for the most part is good and that cops protect you from bad guys. Maybe every day, this idea is reinforces with him because he sees cops dealing with bad guys on the TV, hears how the government is going to protect him from something he otherwise wouldn't be able to, and he has a decent job making decent money with a halfway decent family. Yo
    • Probably when they get too impatient to grab ALL the power that's left in one shot like Musharraf did in Pakistan.

      The Corps and the rich folks behind them are trying to sneak control and $ away from the people gradually so that Joe Apathetic doesn't see anything wrong until it's too late. When they'll be done, the US will look like the Alphaverse in Charlie_Jade. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Jade)

      I doubt it will happen because Greedy people can only hold back for so long...
    • When will there be a tipping point where Joe Apathetic says "enough!" and takes to the streets?
      It'll probably be when the most important parts of running a country are seriously neglected, when people are no longer comfortable and happy. When people feel that the mountainous benefits of living in the US aren't enough. Then they'll take to the streets, and by god, there will be an election like none other for hundreds of years.
    • Every day it's either some government agency or some giant corp that is tightening the screws on US citizens. When will there be a tipping point where Joe Apathetic says "enough!" and takes to the streets? It's alarming that so many people are so docile.

      When the actions of the government affect the TV viewing and high fructose corn syrup eating of the American public. Until then? Everyone will continue to sit on their asses smiling that they did "great work" at their pointless jobs and consider themselves
    • Every day it's either some government agency or some giant corp that is tightening the screws on US citizens. When will there be a tipping point where Joe Apathetic says "enough!" and takes to the streets?

      I'll tell you the answer, but you won't like it.

      The reason people are apathetic about these things is because it doesn't affect normal citizens to any great extent. There will ALWAYS be government abuses -- that's just the nature of power. The question is whether there are widespread enough abuses to

  • Another Reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ewhenn (647989) on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:28PM (#21456477)
    Another reason I prefer not to own a cell phone. Modern ones all have at least rudimentary location tracking built in. With the way the US Govt. abuses powers it shouldn't have, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that they will try to exploit it so they can track people "in need of public safety"... because we all know how the average American (and yes, I'm an American citizen, so I'm bashing my own country, not yours) will roll over and play dead anytime the Govt. pulls out the safety card. It's pathetic.

    • Re:Another Reason (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:52PM (#21456729)

      Another reason I prefer not to own a cell phone. Modern ones all have at least rudimentary location tracking built in.
      On my phone (a Motorola Razr V3 serviced by Verizon), tracking can be turned on or off. For me, I leave it on so that when I'm out and about on country roads and Forest Service roads, which I am a lot, they can find me when I call 911.

      But I wonder, can "they" track me even when I turn the "feature" off? Maybe "they" see through the little camera on the phone? Can "they" hear waht I'm saying even when the phone is "closed"?

      Anyway, I'm off to the store to buy more aluminum foil (with cash in coin form, of course)...

      • by ewhenn (647989)
        Even if you have it off, 911 has permission to override it to get your location. With systems in place that allow them to bypass your lock, it wouldn't be a shock at all if "law enforcement" (I use that term loosely) and the Govt. will try to use this bypass feature to their advantage, even if it tramples on your rights or is of questionable legal status.

        Even on older phones without GPS features, they still have an idea where you are by which cell tower your phone is connected to. sure, its not as accu
        • Even if you have it off, 911 has permission to override it to get your location.
          The "feature" is spacifically tied to 911, in other workds the manual spacifically says if you want 911 tracking you *must* turn it on. Are you saying that when I turn it off, Verizon is out and out LIEING to me?

          Sometimes paranoia == talking out of one's ass.

          • Re:Another Reason (Score:4, Interesting)

            by ewhenn (647989) on Friday November 23, 2007 @05:51PM (#21457213)
            Yes, they can ignore your preferances. I'm not saying they do it to everyone just to mess with them, but the technology allows for it.

            http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/12/can_you_hear_me.html [abcnews.com]

            ......Any recently manufactured cell phone has a built-in tracking device, which can allow eavesdroppers to pinpoint someone's location to within just a few feet..... The court ruling denied motions by 10 defendants to suppress the conversations obtained by "roving bugs" on the phones of John Ardito....Experts say the only way to defeat it is to remove the cell phone battery.....
          • Verizon is lying to you and they get an immunity from prosecution for it,

            Grow up kid. This is not your 1960s USA.
            This is 2007. What the companies and government say is false.

      • Re:Another Reason (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rueger (210566) on Friday November 23, 2007 @05:14PM (#21456925) Homepage
        But I wonder, can "they" track me even when I turn the "feature" off? Maybe "they" see through the little camera on the phone? Can "they" hear waht I'm saying even when the phone is "closed"?

        Yes. From 2006. [abcnews.com]

        Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off. A recent court ruling in a case against the Genovese crime family revealed that the FBI has the ability from a remote location to activate a cell phone and turn its microphone into a listening device that transmits to an FBI listening post, a method known as a "roving bug." Experts say the only way to defeat it is to remove the cell phone battery. "The FBI can access cell phones and modify them remotely without ever having to physically handle them," James Atkinson, a counterintelligence security consultant, told ABC News. "Any recently manufactured cell phone has a built-in tracking device, which can allow eavesdroppers to pinpoint someone's location to within just a few feet," he added.
        • by jc42 (318812)
          Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off.

          Actually, it's hardly a secret that this has pretty much always been true, even for the old rotary "black phone" from the 1940s and 50s. Unlike modern phones, those didn't have any internal power source, and couldn't be plugged into wall power. They were powered by the 50 volts that the phone company provided on the phone line. And (except for a few rare models) it was openly admitted that they were
          • by rueger (210566)
            Here's an idea: Can we extend this to all government employees, too? And put the transcriptions online? It would be the ultimate democratic tool for feedback from the government to the citizens.

            Ooooh! Try this: since all calls "may be monitored for quality," how about a random process that connects random government employee's phones to a 900 number that anyone can call? $1.99 a minute, and maybe you get to listen in on an IRS auditor, or a petty drone, or maybe, just maybe, your own Senator or Congre
          • by compro01 (777531)
            How long until they can actually record and analyze everything within range of all our phones?

            not too long i'd imagine.

            16-bit, 44.1khz (CD quality) mono sound is ~11KB/s

            with ~300 million Americans, presuming all of them use the phone for 3 hours a day:

            300,000,000*11*3600*3=33,000 terabytes per day

            a 1TB drive costs $402 currently, and assuming three copies of every call (for redundancy purposes) that's about $40 million per day or $14.6 billion per year, which isn't a whole lot given government spending.

            of
        • Hmmph, this is a good argument against having a built-in battery, a la the iPhone. If you want your privacy, you should be able to remove the battery (otherwise I guess you'd have to wrap it in metal...)
      • by mrhartwig (61215)
        Interesting. On my phone (Palm Centro from Sprint) I have the option of turning tracking on, or turning it on *only* for 911. In other words, I can't turn it totally off.

        The phone (I suspect this is Sprint's text, not Palm's) tells me this when I select the "911 only" tracking:
        Turning location on will allow the network to detect your position using GPS technology, making some Sprint PCS applications and services easier to use. Turning location off will disable the GPS location function for all purposes e
    • by Threni (635302)
      If only there was a cheap way of getting some sort of `pay as you go` phone, and only phoning your dodgy friends who also only use `pay as you go` phones...
  • About time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VonSkippy (892467) on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:45PM (#21456665) Homepage
    Good. It's about time they weed out the criminally stupid.

    What moron doesn't know they can buy a throw away cell from Walmarts for cash?

    If you're dumb enough to be a crook AND use a traceable (i.e. contracted) cell phone you deserve what you get.

    • Except that now you have to provide personal information nowadays when you get a "disposable" phone. Older ones without the GPS are being phased out, and if i recall correctly, the providers no longer supported them after January of this year. Face it, there are no anonymous cell phones. That's what you get for using any wireless device. Eventually it has to communicate somewhere if you intend to use it, and from there it's a matter of triangulating signal even if it doesn't use GPS.
      • by anagama (611277)
        My phone has no GPS [epinions.com]. Three or four years ago, Qwest wrote me saying they were "upgrading" their network and my phone wouldn't work anymore. They sent me a free replacement -- was worthless because I used my phone in a semi-remote area in which the internal antenna was not beefy enough. I looked around for a good phone with an external antenna port -- brick shape because I'm hard on phones -- but found nothing. I then went to the Qwest kiosk and asked them to make my phone work (it was supposed to be tri
    • by Snuhwolf (1105289)
      Simply take the battery out of the cell phone and put it in when you need to make a call and take it out when you're done. The phone dosent ping the cell tower unless it has power.
    • by sponga (739683)
      You obviously never watched the show on HBO 'The Wire'.

      This method is known by police and the feds for a long time with the disposable phones; they even got smart and started buying them from another state to throw off the authorities.

      The drug dealers in Baltimore know a lot more about privacy and keeping their conversations private than a lot of people around here sometimes.
    • by swillden (191260) *

      If you're dumb enough to be a crook AND use a traceable (i.e. contracted) cell phone you deserve what you get.

      What makes you think this technology is only used to track crooks? RTFS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:49PM (#21456697)
    I *just* heard a news story about this a day or so ago- take it seriously!
    A car was stolen by three guys, and the guys rammed a police car during the chase.
    The police opened fire on the vehicle, killing the driver. They also wounded one of two other guys in the car who bailed and ran off into the night.

    Here's the part that made me take notice: The news guy said that by using the cellphone number of the driver, they located and captured the other two guys within 20 minutes... by using location tracking of the fugitive's cellphones.

    Considering that a) the driver was dead and b) they didn't know who the other two guys were when they bailed out of the car and took off, 20 minutes seemed awfully fast. But how can you track down a cell phone's location without knowing the number or who the owner is?

    This means (obviously) that there must be an easily accessible database tracking both caller history (to find out who you called, or called you) AND those people's current locations. I knew things like this were in place for DHS and the FBI (a lot of bank robbers get caught because they have cell phones on them or in their cars), but that local LE had access to this stuff was a surprise.

    That means that you and I, joe geek guy, are already in this thing.
    Pretty cool, huh? It's *way* too late for tinfoil.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This means (obviously) that there must be an easily accessible database tracking caller history (to find out who you called, or called you)

      That would be much scarier if the dead guy wasn't carrying the database in his pocket. As for locating two wounded guys on foot--can you say "redial"?

       
    • by AySz88 (1151141)

      This means (obviously) that there must be an easily accessible database tracking ... caller history (to find out who you called, or called you)
      ...maybe the dead driver's cell phone, in this case?
  • by spacefem (443435) on Friday November 23, 2007 @05:05PM (#21456869) Homepage
    I feel like privacy issues are incredibly important... and that I'm the only one who feels this way. Well, me and my friends who read slashdot. And the four libertarians I know.

    The government only does this stuff because they feel like they can get away with it, that's what kills me.
    • The government only does this stuff because they feel like they can get away with it, that's what kills me.


      Seems like they can.

  • Hey, im bored today lets track down soandso and see where that hot girl is today.
  • when do we get our required RFID tags? I still can't believe that some companies actually require their employees to be surgically implanted with these little tracking devices under the guise of security [wordpress.com]. Hopefully the precedent that California set will stand, unless of course the Supreme Court tries to take a look at it and decides that our privacy means nothing in terms of die Staatssicherheit (national security).
  • I could think of this possibility.

    1. Cellphones can be tracked very accurately.
    2. Government can tap the records at will.
    3. Bank robbery happens at 4th and main.
    4. Police notify FBI.
    5. FBI calls the cell carriers and says "we need all active numbers in grid 34,53 at 12:03 pm when a robbery occurred" List please.
    6. FBI asks for the above mentioned numbers, "Which moved away from grid 34,53 at 12:05 at where are they now" List Please.
    7. FBI asks what was the duration of movement, and speed of numbers in list
    • by MacDork (560499)

      5. FBI calls the cell carriers and says "we need all active numbers in grid 34,53 at 12:03 pm when a robbery occurred" List please. 6. FBI asks for the above mentioned numbers, "Which moved away from grid 34,53 at 12:05 at where are they now" List Please. 7. FBI asks what was the duration of movement, and speed of numbers in list 2 please, and where are they RIGHT NOW.

      That would require geo-locating AND logging. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I have yet seen evidence of logging.

      • In this case, neither geolocating nor logging is necessary: they could have simply looked at the phone numbers through the driver's phone, then asked the mobile company to tell them under which "Location Area Code" all the numbers in the list are located, at present (a LAC usually covers a small group of neighbouring cells in a network). Then it's down to routine police work ("find two wounded guys in this perimeter").

        The location information is stored continuously by the network, in a database called HLR (
  • ... a smart bank robber could leave his cell phone with a friend at the other end of town while holding up the bank. The FBI, tracking the device either in real time or by requesting log data, eliminate him as a suspect.

    Come on folks. We've watched enough '24' and 'CSI' to know how tracking works. We know better then to carry our own cell phones while committing a crime.

  • Richard Stallman is famous for being very careful when he makes predictions. They always seem to turn out to be true. But, in one of his interviews, the interviewer's cell phone rang and RMS said "Will you please turn off your tracking device?". (sorry, couldn't find a link) He went on to talk about cell phones being used by the government to track people.

    Now, when I saw this, I was thinking, "I doubt it. He has got to be wrong about this one. This is just tinfoil-hat stuff." But it turns out Stallman w

  • Simple encryption should make it easy to avoid eavesdropping. Encrypted VOIP, from PC, or mobile through Wifi, or else convert sound into data which is transmitted through cell phone company as data, ought to keep any eavesdropping 100% at bay.
    • The problem isn't that they're listening to you calls (well, that is a problem, but we've done that one a few times already)

      The problem is that they can tell where you are if you're using a mobile phone, even if you aren't using it. And if you are using and have some kind of whizz-bang encryption, they can still figure out who you're calling, because you can't encrypt the call setup (otherwise how would they know where to route the call?)

  • I've been saying this for about five years. This is pretty much a So Nineties article.

    The FBI, at least the pre-Bush FBI, required a search warrant to tap into the GPS signaling that phones and OnStar provides. So as a work around they employed the cellular companies to provide them with regristration information on the cell and node that your phone has recently passed into/out of as you travel. This won't give the resolutions to 10 feet, but they certainly know when you are one the move and where you a

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