Mobile phones or trackers? Debate hasn’t kept pace with technology

On June 2, 2007, a Kansas teenager named Kelsey Smith disappeared in the parking lot of a Target store, where she had gone to buy supplies for a graduation party. Her car, a 1987 Buick Regal, was discovered in the parking lot of a nearby Macy’s.Store surveillance videos suggested she’d been kidnapped, but her cellphone service provider, Verizon Wireless, initially wouldn’t cooperate with investigators who wanted data from her cellphone. Finally, after four days of a massive search, the company released location “ping” data from her phone, and authorities found her within 45 minutes — dead in a Missouri creek bed.The general rule of thumb when it comes to technology and law enforcement is that a given new gizmo will make investigations faster and easier. Instead of requiring a 1,000-person manhunt, a cellphone-wearing person can be found by a team of technicians; instead of depending on the testimony of unfriendly witnesses, the guilty can be damned with a wiretap, without all the muss.To continue reading this Los Angeles Times report, go to:,0,7807998.storyAlso see:That’s No Phone. That’s My Tracker.
The device in your purse or jeans that you think is a cellphone — guess again. It is a tracking device that happens to make calls. Let’s stop calling them phones. They are trackers.Most doubts about the principal function of these devices were erased when it was recently disclosed that cellphone carriers responded 1.3 million times last year to law enforcement requests for call data. That’s not even a complete count, because T-Mobile, one of the largest carriers, refused to reveal its numbers. It appears that millions of cellphone users have been swept up in government surveillance of their calls and where they made them from. Many police agencies don’t obtain search warrants when requesting location data from carriers. The End of Privacy?
Cellphones, e-mail, and online social networking have come to rule daily life, but Congress has done nothing to update federal privacy laws to better protect digital communication. That inattention carries a heavy price.Striking new data from wireless carriers collected by Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and first reported last week by Eric Lichtblau of The Times, showed surging use of cellphone surveillance over the past five years by law enforcement agencies at every level and for crimes both mundane and serious.

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