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Is Your Cellphone Spying On You?

Modern cellphones have made it extremely easy to connect with others, use the Internet from nearly anywhere as well as store and transmit tremendous amounts of sensitive data. The improved technology has led to a huge surge in smartphone sales in the last few years, and now nearly all adult Americans carry a cell phone, and some have multiple phones.  In fact, according to a recent study, people actually have more smartphones than toilets!  Click here to read the story.

However, just as these devices make it easier to manage an increasingly digital world, they also make it easier for people to find you, even when you do not want to be found.

How Cellphone Location Information Works

Cellphones are able to send and receive information from all over the world because they operate within a large network. The phones communicate within a nationwide United States cell network that has nearly 300,000 cell towers. There are roughly 600,000 micro cell sites, which have basically the same responsibilities as the larger towers.

Whenever a cell phone is turned on, they are constantly in communication with these towers and microsites. Every five to ten seconds, the cell phone will transmit data to the sites, and the location of the phone is stored within the network. The location data can typically pinpoint the device’s location to within a 50-foot radius. The Federal Communications Commission has initiated regulations that will require the technology to be able to narrow down the phone’s location to an area of only 50 feet by 2018.

Of course, many smartphones make it even easier to find the exact location of the device because they have GPS technology included. When you are using a smartphone, such as an iPhone, there is an option to turn “location services” on. When these services are turned on, it becomes much easier to track the location of the phone to a very specific locale.

U.S. Law Enforcement Using Cell Phone Location Data

The cell tower does not only read the location of a cell phone; it stores and records this tracking information for a significant amount of time. All cellphone companies keep the location information for all of their subscribers for at least one year, if not more. Some network providers have over five years worth of location data for their customers.

So, what does it mean that your cell phone carrier is able to pinpoint and track your every move? United States law enforcement professionals frequently use this data to locate and track the behaviors of suspects. Due to the way that the current laws and regulations are structured, it is very easy for an agent to request this data from a cell provider without the customer ever knowing.

In many cases, the police will not even need to go through the cellphone carrier in order to receive the necessary information. Agencies are increasingly implementing International Mobile Subscriber Identity Locaters. Simply put, these locators act similarly to cell towers, and they are able to pull data from the network in order to locate and track individuals using the signals from their phones. These locating devices have been found to be extremely accurate, being able to pinpoint a person’s location to a specific house.

What Cellphone Forensics Means for Surveillance

In the past, police officers would have to spend hours upon hours staking out areas in order to monitor the behaviors of suspects. Now, they can track the movements of multiple individuals through just a few clicks of a mouse, and can perform close surveillance from remote locations. Using this stored information, they can determine not only the current location of an individual, but also where they have been, and where history suggests they may be going. While these surveillance innovations are controversial when it comes to right to privacy, they have enabled law enforcement professionals to work extremely efficiently and effectively.

Image Credit: Wikipedia