By Tim Hardiman
On a recent Law & Order: SVU episode, Russian Brides, Detectives Benson and Amaro need to find the fiancé of a woman they believe has been murdered. His cell phone is not equipped with GPS. Using historical data the narrow his location down to several hundred meters. On Yahoo TV I was asked: Is this Fact or Fiction? It is a fact
Cell phones – even those not equipped with GPS – can be located based on the locations of the towers their signals reach. This can be done in real-time for active tracking or based on historical data to see where a phone has been. The exact method and size of the area they can narrow it down to will vary based on factors such as the number of towers in the area, the make and model of the phone and the carrier.
A timely article posted yesterday on Device Magazine’s website gives a quick tutorial on this and also discusses the legal questions being asked about cell phone tracking. Device mag Exact requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but as of now it appears most jurisdictions require a level of proof below that required to obtain a search warrant – probable cause – and they may or may not require a court order.
There are non-criminal reasons for tracking a cell phone with or without GPS. Finding lost or missing children or handicapped adults is one, locating missing hikers, campers or skiers is another.
My wife recently called our insurance company’s Roadside repair service. After ascertaining that she was in a safe location they asked her permission to locate her via the cell phone she was using to place the call. She agreed and they instantly had her exact location. (Her cell phone is GPS equipped.) So cell phone location is not limited to law enforcement or the government, private entities too can get your present location or subpoena records to determine historical locations. Some cell plans even come with location tracking as an added Sprint Family Finder http://sfl.sprintpcs.com/finder-sprint-family/signIn.htm Whether this is good or bad depends on what you were doing at the time and whether or not you were where you were supposed to be.