Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cell Phones & Your Privacy

Most people today cannot even fathom living without their smart phones – myself included. Anywhere I go I can now have virtual access and information easier than ever before. Along with the access also comes greater mobility and productivity – all good most cases. But in states like New York, there are consequences as well. For example, using a cell phone while operating a car can cost you a $150 fine and 2 points on your license. But the legal implications can be far worse…


The most popular smart phones on the market today are the Android and the IPhone. Most people who use these devices (the author included) simply love them. Not only can you talk to others, but you can easily browse the web, take pictures, listen to music, record videos and a myriad of other functions. The power of this mobility in filming videos alone is being attributed as one of the main causes of Cisco ditching their once popular flip video cameras.

All seemed to be chugging along well with these smart phones until a recent news report of the IPhones having the ability to track a user’s historical location and storing this data both on the phone and on their computers once it has been synched. Naturally privacy advocates are up in arms about this since the implications of such data had been previously unknown to IPhone users. But this also leads to another issue…


In January 2011, California’s Supreme Court ruled that police could conduct warrantless inspections of a suspect’s cell phone – including all of its data. Wisconsin and Michigan also follow the same procedures and use tools like the Cellebrite UFED device to literally download all information (including deleted messages and content) from a suspect’s phone within a matter of minutes. In short, if you are pulled over and/or are a suspect in any violation, all of your history on your phone can now be downloaded by the police and may be admissible in a court of law. This naturally leads one to wonder that if the IPhone can track and store your physical location for a year, there would be a lot of people who would love to get their hands on that information – including a suspicious spouse, probation officer, parole officer, tax auditor and the like.


There is a positive side to mobile tracking of users as well. In 2009, cell phone tracking technology allowed the South Brunswick police department to track down a three children who became lost on a nature hike in a 113 acre wooded area. Using their cell phone signal and digital mapping, they were able to guide them to safety in 18 minutes – avoiding the costly and traditional forms of search and rescue. 911 calls have also become more effective with cell phone tracking in situations where households continue to shed their land lines in favor of a cell phone only household.


Ironically, the need to add GPS tracking to a user’s cell phone and ultimately track them down was not the result of some evil company but rather the Federal government. In 2001, federal legislation was passed that requires wireless service providers to identify and place phones on their network to within 328 feet of their actual location. Even though people tend to love this feature when they need to get directions from point A to point B, the federal government was the first to mandate it – and for different reasons. But what the federal government didn’t mandate was storing user locational data and allowing police easy access to your mobile history.

As with other forms of social media, the laws governing user privacy as it applies to technology is in many ways largely outdated on both the federal and state levels and it likely to see many changes in the months and years to come. Until then, smart phones users need to become “smart” as to the downsides of what many see as a great new form of information and freedom. In the end, all of us must understand the ultimate cost of this new freedom for as Nietzsche famously stated; “Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.”

About the Author: Dustin Ruge is the owner of the SEO Consultant Firm based in NYC. Dustin provides advanced search engine optimization consulting services (SEO)


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