Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

Summary: Your smartphone and tablet are tracking your every move, and authorities can get that information without a warrant.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Wi-Fi
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The latest iPhone prototype situation that began with it being left in a bar is food for thought about all of our mobile devices. Analysis of the Apple iPhone happenings has been done and won't be rehashed here, but at the heart of the situation is technology that affects most of us. That prototype was traced to a bar and then to a private home, proving that the device was tracking every move it (and the person carrying it) made. This isn't a special feature of the prototype, it is something that all smartphones and tablets are doing all the time.

Location-based services are a cool use of mobile technology, as they can add benefits to the user not otherwise possible. You see that every time you run a search on your smartphone and have pertinent local information returned. This is possible due to the fact that your mobile device, smartphone or tablet, is tracking your whereabouts all the time.

There are three levels of tracking that take place: devices with GPS can pinpoint your location with great accuracy; cellular-equipped devices can use the carrier's signal towers to locate you with decent accuracy; Wi-Fi devices can use hotspot information to locate you, although you must be actively connected to be located. Any one of these methods are sufficient for those wishing to see where you are, especially without you knowing they are watching.

Government watchdogs have been quietly using this method of surveillance for years, and have been called out by privacy organizations for it. The U. S. Justice Department and local law enforcement agencies have been able to get judges to order carriers to turn over location information about parties of interest, without probable cause of any kind. It is a way to mark a party's every movement without a search warrant.

A recent court ruling may be turning off the easy tap that authorities have come to use for surveillance. Authorities have been able to use this easy access to location information without warrants because courts have previously ruled that agencies do not need to disclose what data is being obtained nor what was done with it. That may stop with this ruling that says authorities must reveal what data was used against those convicted of a crime.

This ruling is the result of the ACLU pushing the courts for clarification of how location data is obtained and used. Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case, sums up the situation:

"I highly doubt that the 90 percent of Americans who carry cell phones thought that when they got cellphone service they were giving up their privacy in their movements."

Cell phones are only one piece of the mobile tracking puzzle, with some laptops and most tablets like the iPad also using location as a feature. Those concerned about the information being tracked can turn off location features in the settings for most phones and tablets. Be aware that carriers still track that information if they are involved, as they are with phones and tablets with 3G/4G service.

Image credit: Flickr user zigazou76

Topics: Mobility, Wi-Fi

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12 comments
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  • Wi-Fi: You do not need an active connection to be tracked

    "Wi-Fi devices can use hotspot information to locate you, although you must be actively connected to be located."

    The smartphone's Wi-Fi must be turned on and scanning, but you don't need a connection to a hotspot's network. The smartphone monitors local SSIDs and uses a vendor supplied list of known SSIDs and their location to identify where it is. It's often faster than GPS and very accurate.
    Spatha
  • I won't be back

    I admit it: I'm a geezer. But you know what? I'm glad. I can't imagine what sort of Orwellian Hell awaits those now in their 20's. It's not just this, it's the cameras everywhere with facial recognition software, the RFID chips the size of microbes. And it won't be too much longer before machines are smarter than people. Good luck with that.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

    Pull the battery and they can't track you. Problem solved.
    LoverockDavidson_-24231404894599612871915491754222
    • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

      @LoverockDavidson_
      :D
      Ram U
    • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

      @LoverockDavidson_ Ya, but watch, Congress will make it a crime to do so once people start doing so. Not just the U.S but most powers that be would love to micro-manage each and everyone of us like cattle. I don't have a smart phone, Ipad, etc, but I still know I'm being tracked to a certain extent.
      yooper@...
  • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

    It always comes down to the same thing though...

    If you do nothing wrong, why do you care if they can find out where you are?
    daniejam10
    • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

      @daniejam10 - Imagine you're in a custody battle with your ex-wife. Her new boyfriend is a police officer. Think she may be able to come up with some dirt?

      I'm not saying I'm against the authorities having the ability to access this information, but force them to go through the proper channels and get a warrant.
      tdogg219
      • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

        @tdogg219

        What sort of dirt? Maybe attending a strip club? Does not affect your claim for custody, only things that can affect custody claims are - being a criminal, or not being able to care for your child, such as leaving them home alone at a low age. In which case, you deserve to get caught.
        daniejam10
    • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

      @daniejam10 Because not all people who have access to your whereabouts are goodhearted, and protectors of society. They may not have the same concept of right and wrong as you, me or the legal system.
      Knowing when you're not home, or at a particular location, can provide opportunities for some to commit a wrongful act. This doesn't mean access to location information must always be denied, but it is important to have legal and other safeguards in place.
      Spatha
    • RE: Your mobile devices know where you are, so do the authorities

      @daniejam10 Its not about whether or not I am doing things that are right or wrong, but about civil liberties being trampled on. If only the criminal speaks out against an unjust law or abuse of law, it will continue to be abused. It is the duty and obligation of upstanding citizens to fight the government's expansion of power and abuse before it grows so large that the only option is outright rebellion.
      JacobHall86
  • Legal tracking

    tracking anyone criminal or not should require a warrant signed off by a real judge and he should require sufficient cause for the issue of a warrant. Accidental collection of location data should also be subject to the same rules of usage in court. It has to be legally obtained.
    ivank2139
  • I wonder...

    how many people would go ahead with the smartphone and service plans, if the providers and/or sellers would provide a full disclosure agreement that the purchaser would have to sign before the transaction is completed. <br><br>I wonder how many would hesitate when the seller and/or service provider presented a form that told the purchaser what the service and smartphone WILL INCLUDE...<br><br>1. tracking of your every move and whereabouts <br><br>2. when the authorities seek your personal information, and history of calls and text-messages and people contacted, and history of your whereabouts, we the provider, will surrender that information, whether you like it or not<br><br>3. if you don't agree to the tracking, you also wont' get the smartphone and service plan<br><br>I wonder how many people would disregard all warnings and would take the phone/plan with no hesitation.
    adornoe