We’ve all seen movies where a bad guy gets caught after the cops triangulated his location from mobile phone records. But how realistic is mobile tracking data, can you really be traced through phone records?
Fixing a call location is pretty impressive for the movies, but the truth about mobile surveillance is actually a little more alarming. The fact is, your position and key data is probably been tracked right now.
Mobile phone tracking is currently a rather contentious issue in the US, with government agencies like the NSA heavily publicised for an array of snooping allegation. The Americans may have got it bad with over-eager surveillance agencies, but the rest of the world aren’t exactly free from mobile phone tracking, including the UK.
If it on its tracked
The majority of mobile phones, on a ‘regular’ mainstream carrier are susceptible to tracking. In most cases your phone can be tracked even if you’re not making calls. This is because mobile phones need to be constantly linked to a phone tower to receive data (calls, texts and internet data).
As long as a phone is turned on, it’ll automatically register its position with a phone tower every few minutes or so.
Naturally there’s also the obvious tracking platforms: GPS, WiFi connections and or locations tracking for apps like Google Maps, Foursquare and even Facebook.
So how does it work?
Every time you want to make a call, text or browse the internet, your phone needs to connect to a nearby phone tower. As there’s an automatic dialogue between phone and tower, your mobile will inevitably link to the closest phone mast.
If you’re stationary, the phone will probably only need the one tower, however if you happen to be roaming around, your mobile phone will constantly be jumping from tower to tower.
When your phone links to a tower data is sent both ways, with information about your phone stored within the tower. This information includes unique tracking numbers, data restrictions and location.
Carriers keep track of which tower their customers are using so that they can provide smoother services. However the inevitable repercussion of this is tracking data.
When your phone connects to a tower it broadcasts, with rather impressive accuracy, its position from the tower. From this your exact location (within a few hundred yards) can be located. All this can be done without the phone being ‘active’.
As you can imagine if you’re on the move, the phone also leaves this tracking signal between each tower. From this the carrier can piece together the breadcrumbs of a phones connectivity crating a tidy map of your travels.
What does this mean for your privacy
Intelligence agencies around the globe like the NSA and even GCHQ, have long used phone data to track targets world-wide.
Location tracking can alert international police agencies of criminals crossing borders, bail violations and even a restraining order breech.
However experts now say, new systems allow almost any agency or company, with the technology and finance, to track ‘targets’ worldwide with relative ease and precision.
Naturally the cost of tracking one person would probably outweigh the need for simple shopping data, but if the technology was to become more easily available, nothing could stop governments or companies for that matter, tracking your location.
How do you avoid tracking?
Unfortunately, call tracking is a necessary evil when it comes to good mobile phone coverage. Your phone needs to be in contact with the mast, or its pretty useless. If you want to use your mobile phone at all, avoiding real-time tracking is nearly impossible. Some of the more up to date tracking services can even track phones when they are powered down, latching on the sleep function on phones.
Currently the safest to avoid tracking option would be to invest in a coded network like Silent Circle found on the Blackphone. Silent Circle uses end-to-end coded transmissions on their secure network, so it’s difficult for outside agencies to track any data.
However, the only way to completely eliminate location tracking is to remove the battery from a phone… or just leave it at home. But then it’s pretty useless as a communication device.
Data collecting and Sharing
The major question drawn from this debate, is why should carriers be allowed to store and then share their data with governments, or third party agencies?
The mobile network has a legitimate reason to harvest the data, in order to improve and maintain its connections, but should this be tracked to people and shouldn’t this data be locked down?
Mobile phone tracking is often vital in tracking and tracing highly dangerous criminals. Without some of these freedoms, law enforcement would lose a crucial string to their tracking bow.
What do you think? Is mobile tracking a necessary evil to catch serious criminals? Or is it just another step on the ladder of a ‘security’ obsessed world? This tracking can also be Harassment! Speak to Adrian on 01613710011 or firstname.lastname@example.org