Thursday, November 20, 2008

FBI Can Track Cell Phones Without Phone Company's Help

The ACLU Blog reports With Technology Like This, Who Needs the Law?.

"The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have received several batches of Justice Department documents in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (and subsequent lawsuit) for records relating to the government’s use of cell phones as tracking devices. What they tell us is that the government doesn’t even need the help of a cell phone service provider to track us with our phones. The FBI now has what is called ‘triggerfish’ technology — a cell site simulator that forces cell phones in the area to register its phone number, serial number and location — allowing it to track cell phones on its own. This raises the risk that they will do so without bothering to go to a court for permission first, since they no longer need to compel the provider to cooperate."

A few civicly minded geeks shouted when tracking technology was added to cell phones, saying it was ripe for abuse by a surveillance nation. Now we have one.


Karl said...

How is this surprising? Do people honestly have an expectation of privacy when using a cell phone? The RF specturm is classified as a public resource (which is why the FCC has a right to manage it). This isn't any different than someone visually tracking you when you walk through a public park or using a condensing mic to listen to your conversation. We've always relied on the good intention of "law" enforcement and the judgment of the courts to discard bad evidence.

Howard said...

It's not surprising. But we also relied on warrants, it's even a constitutional right.

Howard said...

Oh and it's not just the conversations aren't private, it's that they can track your location, which most people wouldn't realize. This was a hook added ostensibly to help 911 calls, but it was obvious it was ripe for abuse. I don't remember if it still works even if the phone is off, I think you have to make sure it's really off by pulling the battery (which you can't do on an iPhone).