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US Justice Dept. Sued For Cellular Tracking Information 75

tpaudio writes "The ACLU and the EFF are suing the Department of Justice over how the government might be using GPS and location data from cell phones. With over 200 million Americans carrying cell phones, this could be pretty important for setting guidelines. We have already seen other frightening powers related to cell phones, such as 'cell mic tapping.'" The ACLU press release is also available, and it contains links to the complaint and the Freedom of Information Act request. We've previously discussed instances of cell phone tracking in the US and elsewhere.
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US Justice Dept. Sued For Cellular Tracking Information

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  • by NadMutter ( 631470 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @08:31AM (#24074153)

    There already is a website dedicated to tracking spouses. http://www.sat-gps-locate.com/english/index.html [sat-gps-locate.com]

    • It's just a link to a joke site. Why someone modded it insightful, I can't figure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by story645 ( 1278106 ) *

        To give him karma points? He's pretty new and far as I know, Funny doesn't get karma, so they may have been trying to be nice.

        Or the joke was insightful? The site looks pretty real, and it's totally not far fetched to believe that somebody's already implemented this for profit. Hell, there are plenty of sites that track spouses, invade their privacy, etc. I've heard of people installing key loggers to get into their spouses emails. Lots of people seem really quick to throw away all their ideals about privac

    • That bitch!

      Just as I suspected!

      I saw an article on CNN for a social networking site in the works (I don't remember the name of the company offhand), where you sign up with your cellular phone number to allow your friends to locate you.

      The first thing I thought of was some dude signing up as his girlfriend or the girl at the bar who gave him her number last night, and then the stalking begins. The gal from CNN thought about it too - she asked him if he ever thought of that. His reply was somethin
      • Such technology is still in use -- dunno the name of the off hand, but it can allow GPS base phone to locate "loved ones" --- whatever that means. Although, it can be good for those who have disable or retarded children, or in a similar situation. In anycase these types of gadgets have been available since 80s. Only difference is that technology is now available to an average Joe.
        • I remember a site back in the late 90's that could use your cellphone or a device that looked like a watch to track you from the cell towers. I guess the Idea was to put it on the kids and if they wonder off at the fair or in the store or get up before you do and open the front door, you could find them rather easily.

          Of course it worked for adults too, perhaps with disabilities and stuff. But it used the triangulation between towers to locate the device, I'm not sure if it was very accurate. I think there w

    • There is also the search for criminals who use cell phones as also finding missing people who may be injured that can't be found in line of site. Teens who become involved in abnormal use of cellphone traffic may also be found. Not to mention anti government terrorists can be tracked.
      • anti-government terrorists?

        You don't need the "anti government" part, as if they were pro-government terrorists, their official name is "police" or "military"... :-)

        • which pro?
        • by mpe ( 36238 )
          You don't need the "anti government" part, as if they were pro-government terrorists, their official name is "police" or "military"... :-)

          Or they'd be attached to some "black project", called "intelligence operatives". It isn't exactly unknown for governments to be funding "regular" terrorists, even those such as the IRA who actually made an effort to target "government".
  • Open source really isn't a solution. (Not that I don't want a fully open source cell-phone.) So long as the shut down procedure is implemented in software, someone at the FBI can find a way around it.

    What we need to do is go back to the days when the off switch was a switch that broke the circuit connecting the power supply to the devices. That way, you shut it off, and it is off.

    An even better solution (since I don't really trust it to be off unless I can see the circuits are inoperable) is a phone with t

  • by catwh0re ( 540371 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @08:42AM (#24074183)
    With regards to the story about the mafia being listened into with their cell phones and as also noted in the original affidavit related to the case: the cell phones were altered, i.e they were bugged: they were not dealing with off the shelf goods. The interesting part of the story was how they managed to obtain these mobile phones for alteration/switching. Bugging a device that already has the necessary parts to transmit audio is pretty unexciting.
    • Actually, the article that /. originally posted [cnet.com] on this specifically referred to remote software installation that did NOT require hands-on phone snatching shenanigans.

      • it created a lot of discussion about the method that was used to bug the phone, as it implied they were unaltered phones - however further investigation revealed that the author of the article (and also the fox news televised story) were propagating incorrect information.
        • Thanks, I appreciate the info. I'd mod you up if i were cool enough ;-)
          Do you happen to have a link on the corrected info?

          • There was a lot of chatter about it in the original /. comments thread. I haven't been able to find a link to something that is still accessible though. Although it's a big proposition to suggest that a mobile phone has out-of-band management.(A feature that is usually reserved for plugged-in hardware.)
        • You have no references (other than Slashdot chatter) and I believe you are wrong.

          Even the BBC has flatly stated [bbc.co.uk] that intelligence agencies employ such a remote surveillance technique. MI5 and FBI both are declining to fix this so-called misapprehension when asked by the press.

          We are also talking about the same FBI that will infect target PCs with spyware [computerworld.com.au] through popular Internet sites like MySpace.

          With respect to cellphones, there is no reason to believe that network operators in today's surveillance landsc

  • by kaliann ( 1316559 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @08:48AM (#24074201)

    That somewhere in the Justice Dept. there's someone throwing a temper tantrum because someone took away their totally illegal advantage?

    "Court decisions indicate that USAOs claim not to need probable cause to obtain real-time tracking information. News reports further suggest that some field offices are violating a Department of Justice 'internal recomendation' that 'federal procecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas.'"

    Don't make us get probable cause! Probable cause is for losers! And put the bumpers back into my bowling lanes!

    I love it when my rights are seen as an inconvenience. (Though it's nice that someone has RECOMMENDED that probable cause be found.)

    Seriously, they're law enforcement: finding probable cause IS THEIR JOB.

    • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @10:46AM (#24074735)

      Don't make us get probable cause! Probable cause is for losers! And put the bumpers back into my bowling lanes!

      I'm a big fan of sarcasm, but instead of going the bumper-sticker advocacy route, I'd suggest visiting the ACLU and clicking the Donate Now [aclu.org] button. That way when someone slams you with a "What are you? A pinko liberal card-carrying member of the ACLU?", they'd be at least partially correct for a change.

      Similarly, you can visit the EFF website and become a member [eff.org]. Don't know if they give you a card to carry, but the free T-shirt could be worn by any geek with pride.

      While I expect some of the more egregious abuses of the current administration may end when it packs up its bags and heads out the door, I don't expect to see the trend they represent to subside, or that in the future, there will fewer stories on Slashdot and in the mainstream press where the ACLU, the EFF and similar groups aren't forced to take yet another action to protect our rights.

      • by tsm_sf ( 545316 )
        Could someone who was politically aware when Bush the First was in power please explain why belonging to the ACLU was such a dig back then? The whole "if you're a red-blooded American you don't need civil liberties" position is a big WTF to me.
        • Could someone who was politically aware when Bush the First was in power please explain why belonging to the ACLU was such a dig back then?

          It started before the Bush and Rove twins assumed power. Maybe someone who lives and breathes this stuff can provide a more informative link describing the tortured history, but if it helps, this Wiki article [wikipedia.org] will get you started.

          Most of this you can date back to the Reagan administration. A quick and dirty summary would be that Reagan was elected during a time when th

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by R2.0 ( 532027 )

          The ACLU is widely seen by conservatives as a thinly veiled political organization with far left/communist leanings. The fact that they have not changed their stance on the Second Amendment after the Heller decision is seen as final confirmation of this: their policy has been to defend individual rights, not collective rights, therefor they didn't see it as their purview to defend the Second Amendment. Now that the Supreme Court has stated that the Second describes an individual right, the ACLU's response

  • by mwilliamson ( 672411 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @08:52AM (#24074209) Homepage Journal
    This is exactly why we need phones with open firmwares running fully-published and open peer-reviewed code. I hope the openmoko comes close.
    • No it doesn't. (Score:2, Insightful)

      Phones based on OpenMoko might be a lot harder to bug using the built-in mic (without the user knowing it), but this story is about location data.

      Where your phone is at, is already tracked as a normal function of the cellphone network, because the network needs to determine what cell tower(s) your calls are routed through. So any time your phone is ready to make or receive calls, your provider knows where it is.

      It's safe to assume that some (or all) of that data is recorded somehow. In the European Un
      • Two gadgets I would like to see:

        1) A pager that can turn on your cell phone - then you could use a service like google grandcentral that rings all of your actual phone numbers and the pager would turn the cell phone on in response in time to actually answer the call.

        2) A cell phone with a directional antenna - you could point it at a tower that would normally be outside of your range. You would probably also want some sort of gadget, maybe a java app on the phone itself, that will show you heading and dist

  • When tracking a phone it is important to differentiate between methods that allow the phone to locate itself or methods that locate the phone from the outside. GPS only allows the phone to locate itself. Consequently it has to be a two step process: First the phone must locate itself, then it must tell a third party about the position.

    When it comes to obtaining GPS positions from a phone (without consent of the owner) there are two approaches in my view:

    1. The person has installed a client software to u
    • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Sunday July 06, 2008 @09:41AM (#24074419) Homepage Journal

      You don't need GPS to locate the phone. The phone continually handshakes with multiple cells to support handoff between cells, and the phone company can use that information to locate and track you.

      • If the location finder on my iPhone is any indication of the accuracy of how phone companies 'find' you... In my area, all it does is say "You're somewhere within this 5 mile area that includes two towns."
      • Exactly so and well done!

        It is highly important to keep this capability and functionality as otherwise how would the bad guys, a k a, power elites, be able to track and terminate the likes of Phillip Merrill after he was ready to blow the whistle on the thievery of the Iraqi treasury by BushCo, plus the elimination of that Delta Force team that tipped off Seymour Hersh regarding their ordered standdown at Tora Bora (after sighting Osama bin L.); likewise the required termination of military personnel asso

      • by Phroggy ( 441 )

        Indeed, my phone (a Nokia N75) has no GPS, but is capable of finding my approximate location on Google Maps about half the time. Why it doesn't work the other half (and once showed a location about 2,000 miles away) I don't know...

    • I am still shocked at how many people in the States are still blissfully unaware of the fact that as part of the E-911 regulations all phones made circa 2000 through present already contain a GPS device and/or support an automated method of triangulation via cell phone towers. During a 911 call in a supported region the GPS/Locating system can be activated to transmit your coordinates back to call-center where they are in turn relayed to the proper authorties. The accuracy of the system depends on the gener
  • Worse than all the privacy implications, this is making Enemy of the State [imdb.com] look plausible.
    billeater - lower my bills [billeater.com]
    • by imipak ( 254310 )
      Come on, setting aside all the technology in that film, the idea that there could be a secret, unscrutinised government-within-a-government working out of the basement of the USG [wikipedia.org] is plainly ridiculous. After Watergate a system of checks and balances and congressional oversight was introduced which, although it probably does mean some bad guys are caught later than would otherwise be the case, guarantees that constitutional rights are protected.
    • Oh puuuhlease...you surely don't think this movie's premise could possibly ever happen???

      Simply because we now have the existence of the T.I.A. (made up of NSA, NGA and 90 plus government contractors performing domestic surveillance - including everything from pay-per-view at the hotels/motels, those cameras at all those toll booths, those security cameras throughout every major metropolis, your every online credit and check transaction courtesy of First Data...oh, I could go on, but what's the use...), not

  • Government have been doing this for years. Now they are willing to do it out in the open. Which is a good thing -- not that I support it though.
    • IMO, it's not such a good thing it's being done out in the open. When it was secret, the government had to restrict the methods to high-value targets (mobsters, terrorists, political enemies, though perhaps not in that order), and even then often had to confirm (and appear to discover) the information through legal sources before moving against them, to avoid tipping off the other side. With this tracking being done openly, anyone can be a target -- and without a probable cause requirement, for any reason
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @10:48AM (#24074743)

    with the cellphone turned off. Witness the long times that phones take to turn on / reboot the uP, and you know that nothing is going on inside there unless someone physically gets a hold of your phone and installs some electronics in it. But working in the handset industry for years I can tell you there is not enough room in the phones for anything extra, no matter how compact.

    • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @01:14PM (#24075585) Homepage

      "You can't track people with the cellphone turned off."

      Of course they can. The cell phone, when turned "off" is still operating. How else do you think it determines that you want to turn it on? It needs to figure out that you have held the button for a specific period of time (the same button normally used to disconnect a call when "on" .) Do you think it accomplishes this without the power? The cell phone is always powered even when "off" . Even if the CPU wasn't powered at all times, which it is, you are assuming that the IC that sends and recieves the analog signals to and from the cell are not operational, which is also a bogus assumption.

      ... and a few points to keep the clueless from responding to quickly, as they are wont to do:

      1. The CPU may be in a low power state until a key is pressed. It may not be clocked until that key is pressed. It may be drawing nanoamps of current. It is still powered .
      2. The signal is analog between the phone and the cell. It may be encoded and decoded digitally, but it is none the less an analog signal. In fact every signal in a computer is analog ! Digital is merely a special case of analog. All digital signals are analog. Not all analog signals are digital.

        "But working in the handset industry for years ..."

        Just a note to the people who read this line and assumed it was a reasonable voucher of credential:

        Working in the health industry for years does not qualify one to perform brain surgery. Working as a surgeon for years still may not do so. No offense intended to to LM741N (which ironically is an analog op-amp IC IIRC), but you are severiously misinformed.

      • by Chaxid ( 772696 )
        This reminds me of something we'd always be required to do at my job during meetings. Take the cell phone battery completely out of the phone. I never really understood this, and chalked it up to paranoia, but my bosses where under the impression that someone might be able to remotely turn the mic on. They even said that this has happened before. They only required this while we were in Iraq. Maybe they need to think about doing this in the states too :)
    • you know that nothing is going on inside there unless someone physically gets a hold of your phone and installs some electronics in it. But working in the handset industry for years I can tell you there is not enough room in the phones for anything extra, no matter how compact.

      There's plenty of room in the space for the battery, which can be swapped with a bugged one in less than 5 seconds.

    • The battery-gobbling RF transmitter has just got to be off when the phone is on standby, but can malware intercept the power-off request and turn off the display and keyboard while leaving the tower-tracking logic running? If it were set to wake itself up every five minutes to acquire a tower but to sleep in between, it would be good for tracking and might not noticeably affect battery life.

      For people who worry about things like this but still want to be reachable, there's the option of giving out a pager n

  • What, you can sue because something is merely possible? That is amazing - Minority Report [wikipedia.org] here we come!


    • What, you can sue because something is merely possible?

      Yeah, that was my first thought. Everyone here's bitching about how horrible it is that the government's spying on people, but that's missing the point entirely - I'm much more concerned about the fact that the ACLU is launching a lawsuit based on a guess.

      • "The enemy of my enemy if my friend" and taking this to the extreme of "It doesn't matter how many babies they rape and mothers they kill, as long as they serve my purpose" comes to mind in this.

        It seems that a lot of people are willing to over look the ordinary insanity in order to achive their goals of getting the government. To throw another phrase around, the ends justify the means when it helps your side. Sadely, not too many people are willing to stick up for principle if it mean setting their agenda

    • by n8_f ( 85799 )
      RTFPR. The ACLU press release explains this in the first paragraph. Last year they filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice to get the government's policies and procedures for tracking people via their cellphones. The DOJ basically ignored the request, so now the ACLU and EFF are suing the government to try to get them to comply with that request (and the law). Sounds like a ideal example of why we have lawsuits.
  • Who didn't think it was going to come to this when the FCC mandated GPS capability on all phones sold after a particular date (2005, I believe)?

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