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Systems That Can Secretly Track Where Cellphone Users Go Around the Globe 76

Posted by samzenpus
from the oh-watching-the-places-you'll-go dept.
cold fjord writes with this story about the proliferation of companies willing to sell tracking information and systems. Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent. The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people's travels over days, weeks or longer ... It is unclear which governments have acquired these tracking systems, but one industry official ... said that dozens of countries have bought or leased such technology in recent years. This rapid spread underscores how the burgeoning, multibillion-dollar surveillance industry makes advanced spying technology available worldwide. "Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world," said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International.
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Systems That Can Secretly Track Where Cellphone Users Go Around the Globe

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  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:43PM (#47748873) Homepage Journal

    The concept that we don't track you illegally worldwide is a wonderful fairy tale, but we do track you.

    Now stop using it in the bathroom. That's just gross.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Now stop using it in the bathroom. That's just gross.

      Particularly that third stall from the end.

    • This just illustrates that government attempts at "surveillance" of their own citizens can be used against them, and actually constitute a very serious national security risk.

      If they don't start getting that through their heads (which they really should have by now), they're in for a very serious surprise.
  • by kamapuaa (555446) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:44PM (#47748893) Homepage

    This is good technology, but not as good technology as that thing where people call the bad guy and have to stay on the phone with him for 20 seconds in order to trace the call. If I can offer one recommendation: they should work on making that like 19 seconds. Because 90% of the time the bad guy knows it takes 20 seconds, and has a stopwatch by the phone, and hangs up at like 19 seconds, just to toy with the good guy.

    • Because 90% of the time the bad guy knows it takes 20 seconds, and has a stopwatch by the phone, and hangs up at like 19 seconds, just to toy with the good guy.

      I'm pretty sure that the U.S. Government doesn't need a stopwatch to know when 20 seconds are up. I'm also pretty sure that toying with Edward Snowden isn't as much fun as it may seem. But then again, the U.S. Government is rather psychotic nowadays.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday August 25, 2014 @02:26PM (#47749867)

      Because 90% of the time the bad guy knows it takes 20 seconds, and has a stopwatch by the phone, and hangs up at like 19 seconds, just to toy with the good guy.

      Which is why, back in 2007, the NSA infiltrated stopwatch manufacturers and altered their timing mechanisms so they run slow - when a stopwatch says 19 seconds, in truth it's been a bit over 20 seconds. So now when the bad guy thinks he's outsmarted the beautiful police detective, she's had time to set up that GUI in Visual Basic and knows exactly where he is.

      Don't believe me? Just look at the number of world records that have fallen during the last few Olympic Games.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I probably should not have loaned out my phone to that bearded gentleman carrying the AK-47 who was heading to the Sudan. I need to rethink that sort of generosity.
  • by TWX (665546) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:45PM (#47748905)
    I just assumed that if you can communicate bidirectionally that they roughly know where you are.

    Isn't that partially why receive-only paging services still exist, because those that don't want their location tracked still want to be able to receive notices?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The surprising part (to some people) is not that the provider knows where you are but that anyone who knows SS7 can submit query like "where is 1-123-456-7890?" to the cell network and the provider will tell them.

      • by guises (2423402)
        This is indeed surprising to me. I'm anyone - you're saying that I can find someone's location this way? Or are you saying that only someone with access to the phone company's network can do this?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:23PM (#47749281)

      The "surprise" is that this data is available to seemingly unrelated parties who aren't even state actors. The only data sufficiently protected by the phone system is payment data, because that's what the operators, and by extension the designers of the system, care about.

  • I just could have that super-spy technology be responsible for one long running phone conversation that did not contain the following: "Hello? Are you still there? Crap. Gone again."
  • by Bender Unit 22 (216955) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:53PM (#47749001) Journal

    There are no such thing as privacy as long as you have a cell phone, use a credit card, drive a car with a license plate, anything related to a internet connection, your face visible in public places for cameras to track.
    Hardly a surprise anymore.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      The way I use my smart phone like means the opposite. The phone can take messages, hence using it in burst seems the most convenient way to use it. Left in one room of the house and only picking it up to check for messages and making a burst of calls, as I wander around and then putting it back down. Sometimes taking it with me and sometimes not but definitely not always taking it with me. So consider that phone in your pocket a stranger and don't expose anything to it you wouldn't expose to a stranger.

  • by ei4anb (625481) on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:57PM (#47749039)
    When I read about such techniques in a presentation from the 25C3 conference in 2008 it was not news to me even then. http://events.ccc.de/congress/... [events.ccc.de]
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The UK made sure a kind of early tracking tech was ready for cell phones as a standard due to experiences in Ireland back in the day. Not unexpected news back then, a strange story to make Slashdot in 2014.
  • by ewieling (90662) <user@@@devnull...net> on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:58PM (#47749049)

    "Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world," said Eric King

    Any tin-pot dictator or any person with enough money.
    Governments love that surveillance technology is getting cheaper and cheaper. What they fail to understand is the same technologies are getting cheaper and cheaper for *everyone*. Mobile phone videos of police, customer service call recordings, etc are already starting to make a difference. There isn't much we can do to stop government surveillance, the best we can hope for is being able to surveil back at them.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      There isn't much we can do to stop government surveillance, the best we can hope for is being able to surveil back at them.

      After 9/11, State/local governments began to understand that police communications were a hodge podge of frequencies.
      Since then, there's been a slow, but concerted, push to move all State/local police to a more coherent system.

      Unfortunately, many police forces are upgrading to encrypted systems at the same time.
      We will never really be able to surveil "them" to the same extent as they can surveil us, if for no other reason than they'll make it illegal.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Also even if your phone cant get a good gps, it might get a location for other phones that can, in the area on the same networks.
      Global Wi-Fi, cell-id location databases, ambient signals, visitors use gets a gov/mil some nice indoor positioning.
  • Why is this groundbreaking - when the government can just force the cell phone company to hand over this information at will? And it's free that way. I found it amusing during the Aaron Hernandez case, when they came up with detailed information of his whereabouts - to the second - after the fact that he was suspected of murdering someone.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:34PM (#47749379)

    I'm shocked.

    Who knew that a system that lets you receive a phone call anywhere in the world can be used to tell where in the world you actually are??????

  • by retroworks (652802) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:37PM (#47749403) Homepage Journal
    Here is a website where you can see how your android phone tracks your movement. You have to be logged in, which means it's about as private as a gmail account, however private that is. Tracked me in Europe last month, where I only used the wifi and GPS (but drew point-to-point crow flies lines, as compared to USA highway lines) https://maps.google.com/locati... [google.com]
  • Supposedly, this is a technology oriented site. All it takes is to put 2 and 2 together and get 4 to know that cell phones can be tracked and are tracked.
  • That eeevil corporations and government can track my phone is of course, no surprise. However, how easy would it be to fool such systems, and make them think they're tracking me, when in fact they are tracking someone else, I wonder?

  • But technology is good?
  • No duh.
    The communication device in your pocket is a TWO-WAY radio.

    If you want to be able to talk to the world, expect the world know where you are so the world can listen.
    Of course the cell phone provider knows where you are; they have to literally beam a signal to you.
    So, no duh they know where you are, they have to.
    • by mars-nl (2777323)

      Yes, my telco is supposed to know. But they should be the *only* ones to know. And it seems this is not the case. Far from it.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Back to use once number pads, face to face and number stations. Takes a bit longer.
  • But I'm safe if I disable location services on my iPhone right?
    • by mars-nl (2777323)

      I don't think you get it. This has nothing to do with your phone. It's the phone network that keeps track of where you are. Your phone does not need GPS. It just needs to be on. Now it seems that other people, besides your network operator, are able to query the network for your location by just knowing your phone number. And those people are not necessarily your friends.

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