Privacy Issues Raised by GPS-Enabled Cell Phones?

Lora Bentley

Last week, we learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies want Internet service providers to keep logs of URLs visited by their customers for two years in an effort to aid the investigation and prosecution of child pornography crimes, among others. This week comes news that the agency's ability to use cell phone records to track user movements -- without a warrant -- is also under consideration.


Today's sophisticated cell phones more often than not contain global positioning system capabilities, not only because users find them helpful when navigating new towns, but also because wireless providers use them to make sure they're directing calls to the towers closest to the users at any given time. They're also used to locate users in an emergency, thanks to a federal program known as e911.


However, law enforcement has also used the technology to locate fugitives, according to But on Friday, a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania is considering whether accessing phone records without a warrant violates the fugitives' privacy rights. Writer Jeremy Kaplan explains:

Location information is generated when you place a call on your cellular phone; most carriers store that data for a period of time, which varies by carrier.They don't store the information for long, and they also don't track your location when you're not making calls. But they easily could, says cell phone analyst Sascha Segan, [who says] ..."if the government makes that a legal requirement, they might have to."

The GPS tracking feature can be turned off, of course, but most Americans won't do that if they're told they will be safer in an emergency with it on, Temple University privacy expert Dr. Abbie Forman told

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 22, 2010 5:04 AM Salim Wilson Salim Wilson  says:

Hi Lora, This issue you have reported regarding the GPS tracking will leads to more debate ..... good job


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