Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cell Phone Tracking

Civil libertarians, like myself, loath any device which looks to reduce privacy and expose American's to unnecessary monitoring and tracking. We rail against the obvious technologies such as RFID tracking, a National ID, data mining and profiling services, city wide surveillance systems, online tracking and "loyalty cards". We will not give out personally identifiable information to anyone and even balk when the local hardware store clerk ask us for our zip code.

Hardcore survivalists have the same general attitude towards government/corporate involvement in our lives. Many will not even maintaining a permanent address or file an income tax return because they fear being targeted, tagged and tracked.

As highly honed as our survival skills are many of us still fall victim to the allure of a single device which quietly has infiltrated our lives and possibly already given out our closest held secrets. The following article should be read and inscribed in your mind.

Reach Out and Track Someone

By Terry J. Allen, Posted May 11, 2006

If you are one of the more than 200 million Americans with a cell phone nestled in your pocket, authorities may be able to find you any time day or night--even if you never make or receive a call.

You know the Verizon ad where a lockstep crowd personifies the network that accompanies its customer everywhere? Well, within that seemingly friendly horde, a high-tech Big Brother is lurking.

Most people know that when they make a mobile call--during a 911 emergency, for example--authorities can access phone company technology to pin down their location, sometimes to within a few feet.

A lesser-known fact: Cell phone companies can locate you any time you are in range of a tower and your phone is on. Cell phones are designed to work either with global positioning satellites or through "pings" that allow towers to triangulate and pinpoint signals. Any time your phone "sees" a tower, it pings it

Telecom companies and government are not eager to advertise that tracking capability. Nor will companies admit whether they are archiving the breadcrumb trail of pings from a cell phone so that they--or authorities--can trace back, after the fact, where the customer had been at a particular time. "Of course, there is that capability," says Bruce Schneier, chief technical officer with Counterpane Internet Security. "Verizon and the other companies have access to that information and the odds are zero that they wouldn't sell it if it is legal and profitable. This is capitalism after all."

But legality can be so tricky to pin down, especially when national security and corporate profits are involved. Communications companies and government have been repeatedly caught collaborating in highly questionable practices.

It is likely that authorities are also accessing cell phone call records and conducting real-time tracing of hapless Palestinians who donated to clinics and liberal activists who dared march for peace. And if the administration's record is a guide, it is interpreting privacy protection laws relating to cell phones in ways that bend and perhaps batter the Constitution.

Real-time tracking technology also opens disturbing entrepreneurial opportunities. Anyone who provides their kids, spouse or employees with a software-readied cell phone can secretly monitor them on the web. Wherify.com "locates loved ones within feet/meters in about a minute," and allows subscribers to "view location on both street and aerial mapping, to include date/time stamp, lat/long and block address" and "set breadcrumb schedule for periodic locates."

Everyone uses a cell phone, especially if you live in an off-grid location. I would recommend that if a cell phone is necessary then use an anonymous unit purchased with cash and loaded at 7-11 or any big box super store. Through call pattern recognition it can still be tied to you but if you change your habits this can be mitigated. Possibly explore just using GMRS radios to communicate with your family and friends the walkie-talkie sized units can have a range of ten to twenty miles. If nothing else a throwback CB will work just fine.

Even though all telecommunication carriers are bound by law to protect your personal information the era of George Bush has shown this to be a false promise broken when convenient. If the pattern remains then the Senate will pass Telecommunication Immunity as part of the FISA rework so the American public will never find out who has this sensitive phone and tracking information or how it is being used.

As the focus was on man behind the curtain we missed the flying monkey coming through the palace doors.

If interested in privacy issues check out the following sites.

Electronic Frontiers Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center


theotherryan said...

I am also a liberterian so I resent the government intruding upon peoples privacy. That being said I know that people can definintely get a bit too paranoid (if that is not an oxymoron I don't know what is). It is easy enough to have only a landline and pay for everything in cash. I personally have no qualms about carrying a cell phone and paying for things from time to time with a debit card.

I really hope that the government has better things to do then track me. If they do they would find out the following: I eat out too much, I like Coors Light, I have a subscription to Playboy and that I am not a tipper.

Anna said...

I've heard Tracfone is the only alternative that is fairly anonymous. You buy them at the Family Dollar store (or WalMart), and there's no identification linked to them. I don't know if that's true, but it's an idea.