Cell phone tracking has evolved — understand its impact on you

We’ve posted previously on the dangers of getting involved in cyber crimes. A related problem, however, is the danger of believing that electronic anonymity is even possible these days — especially if you’re carrying a mini-computer in your pocket in the form of a smartphone.

Cellphones have evolved rapidly — and understanding how they can be used as evidence of your location at any given time requires understanding how they work.

Your cellphone automatically connects with any wireless towers nearby any time that it’s on — whether or not it is actually being used. During that time, your cellphone’s movement can be tracked by following it as it moves from one group of overlapping cell towers to another.

In decades past, prosecutors would often subpoena cellphone records in order to show the “triangulation point” of the cellphone at any given point. Triangulation requires at least three cellphone towers and the ability to evaluate how strong the cellphone was receiving each signal. Looking at the areas where the signals overlapped allowed experts to make an estimate of a cellphone’s approximate position at different times.

As you can imagine, there was often a lot of doubt about the accuracy of the triangulation points, the expert evaluations and the general worth of the evidence — and any good defense attorney was likely to attack such evidence as strongly as possible.

However, these days, most cellphones have global positioning software automatically built into the background of their operating systems. This is in response to anti-terrorism legislation in 2001.

As a result, most modern cellphones can be tracked to a range of 328 feet — and often much closer than that. The process relies on 12 or more cell towers at a time — making them far harder to dispute as evidence.

It’s important to understand these sorts of things because, if you’ve been arrested, you need to understand how serious the evidence is against you — and what can be difficult to dispute. That can help you better understand the guidance from your criminal defense team as you proceed.

Source: Techwalla, “How Do Police Track Cell Phones,” Keith Evans, accessed Aug. 18, 2017

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