Warrantless mobile phone location tracking heads to Supreme Court – Ars Technica
The Legal argument is in a pdf, and is linked. It’s great reading of how dangerous mobile phones are to your privacy.
According to ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler:
… the Eleventh Circuit relied on Supreme Court cases from the 1970s that held that certain limited information that people voluntarily share with third-party businesses can be accessed by law enforcement without a warrant. But the logic behind those precedents, known collectively as the “third-party doctrine,” has not held up well in the digital age.
So the Government is using 1970’s legal precedent, which is pre Internet and probably pre Mobile phones.
The key dispute involves the data about the cell tower that wirelessly connected the calls from and to Davis, and the location of those towers. (Note always take the battery out of your mobile or use a privacy shield for it to avoid this pinging of base stations.)
Given that no federal appeals court has sided with the Fourth Amendment on the issue, there’s a slim likelihood the Supreme Court would intervene at this juncture. However, a California federal judge ruled (PDF) this week that warrants were required for such data. If that is upheld on appeal, that could create the appellate court split that would make the issue ripe for the Supreme Court.
Here we go… the interesting stuff:
1. Mobiles send out “pings” every 7-9 minutes
2. Connects to many radio towers. Therefore even it you’re not on an Vodaphone network – Vodaphone base stations can track you (or BT, or O2 – basically anyone and his brother can track you).
3. You create location data if you don’t answer a call, or if an app sends out data, or if your mobile “pulses” the network for the strongest radio signal. Blimey!
4. This location data can identify the floor within a building or even the room. Generally it can act as a GPS and place your location to within 5 foot, depending on the density of base stations (of all operators, not just your carrier).
The fact that any and all telco base stations can be accessed by the government to track you, is highlighted by the “Roaming” legal argument:
So far, the courts have ruled that:
Even if you know that mobiles ping the base station – you are not consenting to third parties accessing that information.
The spooks are arguing that they should be able to track you to every room in a building – via your mobile phone. Lets change the context to see this via other 3rd parties… to see if it feels rights.
1. As you carry a Visa credit card – with RFID – we could argue that you are consenting to VISA tracking your whereabouts to within 5 foot at all times. Would you be happy with Visa tracking you at the doctors or hospital or on a date, or when you’re at home? I doubt it. That would reveal your religious, sexual and political preferences… so we’re into sensitive data – that is no business of the state.
2. Your passport has contactless technology. When you cross a border.. customs tracks you at that point, but not otherwise. Should you passport report back to the Police station which room you’re in?
Again that would reveal your sensitive data such as religion, belief system, and politics. Are you happy with that?
Great legal argument from the ACLU. Lets hope they win!
But again, I stress the point – take out your battery on your mobile.
ALL base stations can be used to track you, not just those of your carrier.