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Cell Phone Tracking In the UK 141

jvlb writes "The BBC reports on cell phone tracking systems now available in Britain. The correspondent addresses the privacy and security issues that ensue." From the article: "With more and more children owning mobile phones, special attention needs to be given to who can track them. If you are not a genuine parent or guardian, the code requires location services to check that both the tracker and the person being tracked can prove they are consenting adults. Mr Macleod says: 'The person that is to be located has to demonstrate to the service provider they are at least 16 years old.'"
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Cell Phone Tracking In the UK

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  • Brilliant! (Score:3, Funny)

    by MonsterOfTheLake ( 880659 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:27PM (#14804724)
    This should work out well, I'm sure it won't be abused.
    • What kind of abuse since both parties need to become into an agreement to setup the system?

      Beside that, I am pretty much sure tracking of any citizen can be done by authorities if needed. And this technology is there for a while and had not been made publicly available before. So, if you fear BB, it's just too late!

      • You barely need the phone for 5mn to setup the tracking, a guy has already used it to track his girlfriend.

        He told his gf what he was going to do and got authorization, but basically everything that's required is to get sole access to the switched-on phone for 5 minutes: setup the tracking, receive SMS, delete SMS, you're done, the owner of the phone is tracked without his knowledge. With this kind of "requirements", you can setup a tracking for quite a large number of people...

        • So, basically, password protect your cell-phone and never let someone else you don't trust use it.

          BTW, could it be cancelled easily as it can be setup?

          It should and it circumvent completely this kind of problem, since you can always cancel your authorization, anytime and in less than 5 minutes.

          • There is no password protection on most mobile phones, they just have pin entry when they're first switched on. That is no good if the phone is already powered up.

            Cancellation would not solve this problem. You are kind of missing the point. The journalist that the GP is referrering to showed how easy it is to set up tracking on somebody elses phone. Once setup there is *no* indication that the service is active. Thus you wouldn't know to cancel it, or who with.
          • So, basically, password protect your cell-phone and never let someone else you don't trust use it.

            Most cells don't have password protection once they're turned off. And it's not "don't let someone else use it", it's "don't let anyone use it", not your friend, not your girlfriend, not your parents, no one.

            BTW, could it be cancelled easily as it can be setup?

            If you dismiss the fact that you don't even know you're being tracked (and therefore wouldn't have the idea to cancel your tracking), then yes.

        • On the tracking system I was looking at a few days ago, it sends regular SMS's to the tracked phone to ensure consent is still agreed, rather than a one off. http://www.followus.co.uk/received_a_text.html [followus.co.uk]
      • >> What kind of abuse since both parties need to become into an agreement to setup the system?

        The copy of 2600 [2600.org] sitting in front of me (22.4) has an article called "How to track any UK GSM phone (without the user's consent)".

        In a nutshell, it involves using an online number spoofing service to OK the request for tracking. So much for the agreement bit....
      • > What kind of abuse since both parties need to become
        > into an agreement to setup the system?

        No you don't - you simply need both parties' PHONES. Big difference. Who doesn't have access to their wifes/girlfriends/child's phone for the purposes of sending the "ok to track me" text message?

        A decent system should tell the tracked user that they are being tracked (and by whom) each time their position is requested by the tracking party.
    • ... and you'd have seen this about a month ago.
  • 16 years old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by biocute ( 936687 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:31PM (#14804739) Homepage
    I don't know how many 16-year-old teenagers would give consent to being tracked, while on the other hand, those need being tracked the most (under 10 or so) cannot legally allow parents to do so?
  • Big Brother is alive and well across the Pond. I wonder if they want George Bush to make up for what happened in the American Revolution? :P
  • by nx ( 194271 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:35PM (#14804751)
    TFA mentions several reasons as to why one would want to use this service, viz. tracking your employees or your children. Oh, whatever did we do before this technology came to save us? It seems to me that while some technology I would deem harmful (such as most surveillance tech) does have its uses - if criminals communicate via email, then the police should be able to read their email (with a warrant). However, this is one area where this does not apply. Giving your child a cell phone does not make them harder to keep track of, thus warranting use of this technology. On the contrary; just call the kid.

    I think potential for abuse, in this case, outweighs whatever good may come from this. Please, kill this market by not using their service. Please.
    • Giving your child a cell phone does not make them harder to keep track of, thus warranting use of this technology. On the contrary; just call the kid.

      Interestingly, this tracks the phone, not the owner. Subtle but key difference.
      The only times I can see this coming in useful is when the mobile has been stolen - something all too common in urban and suburban UK. What with a mobile phone and an iPod, it isn't unusual for a 14 or 15 year old kid to be carrying £200-£300 worth of gear in their p

      • More and more I think about this and I find that it probably won't be used directly for abuse by law enforcement or political officials. What will happen is that the infrastructure necessary to support this will be enlarged. That infrastructure will require care and maintenance by human beings. Those people are socially connected with other people.

        The abuse will come from people who are connected to the people who care and maintain the infrastructure for this. In short, more than enabling the trouncing
      • It's a technology that seems mostly useless to me except for business. Even then, many large hauliers already have systems using GPS which can be used to increase yield.

        I'm sure a lot of parents will opt for it. Those who don't trust their children to tell them where they are really going or think that there's a child killer on every corner. Even then, it's not a very perfect system. A kid will just leave the phone at their mates while they go off to try and get into a pub.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is quite commonly used in the UK, lots of companies provide the service with connections in to the main networks... it's used for all kinds of things - a service I used last week allowed you to dial a number and be connected to the nearest taxi operator, fantastic for when you're out in the middle of London...

    In Norway they are using assisted GPS (GPS on mobiles with data / maps coming over GPRS or 3G) and can provide directions to your nearest doctor or supermarket or whatever right down to 10 metre a
  • "The person that is to be located has to demonstrate to the service provider they are at least 16 years old."

    "Hello, operator? My buddy Jim is late, and I'm a bit worried about him, can you track him down for me?"

    "Certainly sir, just a moment."

    Calls Jim's phone

    "Hello, Jim? This is the operator, someone wants to track you. We need your concent and proof you're over 16 years of age."

    "AHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH! I'm trapped under my car! It flipped on the highway, and now I'm jammed! Help me! AHHHH!"
    • Hold on a sec,

      Jim is in a burning car, with a working mobile, yet he never bothered to phone the 999 and get some help? Dumb noobs like him are the kind that troll on slashdot, let him burn!

      Does it work in rural areas? This could be awesome for stuff like people lost in mountains etc

      As for agreeing, have a clause where you agree that person X can override this right. Hell if i fell down a hole and couldn't speak, i wouldn't care if my mum agreed on my behalf to have me found via my mobile.
      • It will work anywhere where there are cell towers to do triangulation on. The only places I've been that don't have mobile signals recently are the London underground and central Oxford, but I'm sure there are others.
        • Surely it will work anywhere, as it just needs to know which cell your phone is currently sat on. Triangulation is only needed for exact pinpointing, which these systems don't necessarily provide?
      • Oh great, more ways for people to go unprepared into the wilderness, then get caught and expect people to risk life and limb for them.

        Should this become more of a problem than it already is, I hope the people are charged for the rescue so that the parks can spend more of their meager budgets on keeping the parks in good shape and not saving the guy who didn't take water, food and a map with him.
      • The only capability that needs to provide is the ability of a cell user to obtain such information.
  • I use one of these services to track my kids (www.fleetonline.net). I don't mean routinely just to snoop on them but on the occasion that I don't know where they are and am worried. Works pretty well in most areas; you don't need cruise-missile levels of resolution actually.
    • Re:Works well (Score:4, Insightful)

      by temojen ( 678985 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:11PM (#14804902) Journal
      Why not just phone them and ask if they're OK? If they're not OK, all you know is where their phone is ... Lying where they dropped it when they were abducted (oh good, he's at the park), In the car at the accident scene (oh, good, she's just leaving the mall now), In their pocket while they get drunk (oh good, he's at jimmy's).
      • Good points! Tracking only tells you where their phone is, not where they are. And even if the two coincide, it doesn't tell you what they are doing, which one would presume is more important.
    • I was going to post at length on this subject, but I'm not. At the risk of being moderated flamebait I have to say it: if you need to track your children you should be asking yourself, very seriously, what this says about you, them and their upbringing. Knowing where they are makes them safer how, exactly?

      One thing; when I was at U, I was attacked by a psychopath with a knife while on college premises. Location services are about making money, and they therefore seek to induce the paranoia that causes peopl

  • Old news... (Score:4, Informative)

    by aallan ( 68633 ) <alasdair@b[ ]lim.co.uk ['abi' in gap]> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:59PM (#14804848) Homepage

    This is such old news, it was initially worked over by The Guardian [guardian.co.uk] at the start of the month, and it even got picked up by Slashdot [slashdot.org]. But it was old news even then, you've been able to do this sort of thing for years. I've talked about it a lot [babilim.co.uk] in my blog...

    • Nope, its very old news. I implemented a location lookup system for a major UK roadside breakdown service (so if you've broken down in the middle of nowhere they can find out roughly where you are).

      As for abuse... well, lets say that during testing, my location was repeatedly looked up whilst I travelled between the customer and my office, by my colleagues, so it is very easy. in fact, they had to add a audit trail to the lookups so that callcentre staff would stop looking up their boyfriend's (or whoever)
      • On the good side, someone I know used it repeatedly to determine the location of his wife's handbag after it (and the phone inside) was stolen. I guess he had permission from his wife, though the thief obviously didn't consent.
        The way things are going in the UK, I'm surprised he didn't get fined for breaking the data protection act and have to compensate the thief for violating his right to privacy.
  • SIM card swap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:01PM (#14804853) Homepage
    I would imagine that kids who were off and up to no good would pop in a different SIM card and meet up with their friends. The thing about cell phone tracking is that it would be quite hard to prove someone wasn't just out of range (elevator, basement), so even if the tracking were to say, "No Data Available", you can't assume that the kid turned off the phone or changed SIMs.
    • Signal stength at least in dublin, ireland would prevent this. i can only think of one place in dublin that i use that has very low signal strength. on a new section of motorway there is a spot in a dip that causes voice calls to break up but the signal is still strong enough to maintain the call.

      thats only on one phone service. other phone services are ok in the area.

      even in large buildings there are mini masts located in shop signs that handle gsm calls.

      parents would be worried that children would be i
      • My mothers house in SE London has always had terrible coverage. Not sure why, I've used my phone all over the world and I got a better signal in the middle of the English Channel last time I was on a ferry to France. Also, if you're ever on a train going through Richmond station (W London) look out for people on the phone. Invariably they lose their connection. Always gives me a chuckle.
    • Re:SIM card swap (Score:3, Informative)

      by stud9920 ( 236753 )
      IAAMTE (I am a mobile telecom engineer)

      We can still track them at IMEI (phone serial number) level.
      • You can't if they have switched to a different network.
      • IMEI can be changed with a laptop and a cable in a matter of seconds. Not always inexpensive for the hardware, but if you don't want to be tracked or bothered by the 3 letter agencies... I'm sure it breaks a few laws in one or two countries, but whatever. They want to over-extend on the rules of intercept, then I'll swap my IMEI every day. A new sim card where I am at is about $0.50 US.

        What really screws it all up is that your identity can be fairly well confirmed by who you are calling.

        -- ex 'them'
    • I know of several places here in Perth (australia) where I dont get cellphone service (or didnt last time I was there) and where I had to move outside to get it. (the last case I can remember was when I was inside a k-mart store and had to go outside the store to get service)
      • Hell, it happens in the bathroom where I work in midtown Manhattan (New York). It happens in the subway. It happens at various times all around the city of New York. It also happens as I head out into Connecticut or New Jersey, at various points. I don't really buy the "we have service everywhere" people, though I did manage pretty well with a triband when I was based out of London and went to Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, even on the train moving at high speed.
    • I'm pretty sure that both the phone and the SIM transmit their own unique ID, though I hate cells and don't own one.
  • This isn't new. Check out NTK which reported on this years ago. There was also an article later on in the sunday post where a university student had managed to find a way to bypass the security on these without requiring physical access to the device. I believe the guardian picked up on this as well.
  • by danratherfoe ( 915756 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:07PM (#14804882)
    The issue of tracking and surveillance is not one that is confined to the UK. All of the cell phones sold in America since 2001 have had the capability to be tracked down to a radius of only a few feet by a combination of triangulation and GPSs technology. Anytime the government wants to, they can know where you are -- if you have your phone with you -- even if that phone is not on (see http://news.tbo.com/news/MGBYEM9DQ3E.html [tbo.com]). The capability also exists to turn your phone into a passive listening device even when you do not think that it is on.

    Now consider this: in Texas, there is a plan afoot -- already approved by the legislature -- to turn over 6000 miles of preexisting roads to a foreign Spanish company so that the company can charge tolls on those roads. Drivers will be required to have an RFID tag in their car with will allow their movements to be tracked and cataloged that company (and the state will have access to that information, see http://www.austintollparty.com/ [austintollparty.com]). This is not just confined to Texas, there are similar plans in many other states.

    The question has to be asked: why is there is this massive push for the governement to know where we are all of the time and have the ability to listen to us. This may just be the insipiant footprint of a police state.

    • Foreign and Spanish - amazing!
    • By any ordinary measure, America already is a police state. One that is far more technologically-advanced (and thus potentially far more invasive) than any that have preceeded it, with the possible exception of Great Britain. The fact that the abuses that invariably occur with the arrogation of such power haven't reached the level of, say, the old East German government is irrelevant. America is a police state held in check by tradition and the tattered remnants of our Constitution, and once our educational
      • the reason we are not a police state in the old east german fashion is that we still have guns. The right bear arms helps keep our taxes lower and press almost free! As long as we have guns big bro has to convince us to let him do stupid things to us, instead of just doing them.
        • That has got to be the biggest pile of crap I have read here in a while (and you have some stiff competition).

          Learn to spell, learn how to form a coherent argument, *then* share your wisdom with the world.
        • What? Try it again. This time look up the word coherent.

  • by keilinw ( 663210 ) * on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:14PM (#14804915) Homepage Journal
    Its funny how my perception of the world changes depending on the current situation. I firmly believe in a person's right to privacy. However, I've often thought that it would be very useful to be able to track people with cell phones. The HYPOTHETICAL solution would be that those who consent to tracking could broadcast their locations to their friends, thus making it easy to know if one is in proximity to someone they would like to meet up with.

    On the flip side, as we all know, are the privacy issues that stem from this. And, in this day and age I'm certain that there is a lot of room for abuse. The author of the BBC article certainly proved this to be the case. Is is really ever possible to achieve this hypothetical solution where only those who consent to being tracked are tracked?

    The BBC author brings up another interesting point that I didn't think of before --the issue of tracking children or minors. For some reason I always assumed that the greatest benefit from this technology would be to track your children and perhaps even keep tabs on whether or not they are visiting "forbidden" areas. Obviously this is not the case as children cannot legally consent to being tracked! So what about that GPS tracking collar thing? How do the children consent there?

    The battle between functionality and privacy continues in full force. I'm sure that we'd all like the CONVENIENCE of RFID, biometric scanners, wireless credit cards, wireless passports, etc... but at what price and at what risk to our privacy? Certainly large governments will be the major players behind such schemes. Who knows... for a while privacy rights may be protected... but what about the future? Since the technologies are there then the room for abuse is also there....

    Some food for thought.

    Matt Wong

    http://www.themindofmatthew.com [themindofmatthew.com]
    • the main point of this is that it is now publicly available. thepolice have been able to do it for years whenever they wanted - in fact the ian huntley murder (which was a very big deal here) was down to phone tracking - there was only one place in the village that was a mobile dead spot - ian huntley's house.
    • >The HYPOTHETICAL solution would be that those who consent to tracking could broadcast their locations to their friends

      What if your location information went out only to people on your IM buddy list, as part of your presence information? How useful would it be to scroll through a list and see that Kathleen is Not Busy, @ laundromat next to Caligula Pizza, Current Mood Hungry?
  • ... code requires location services to check that both the tracker and the person being tracked can prove they are consenting adults.

    Oh, how nice of them to keep their toys to themselves. I doubt that people wanting cell service are asked for their consent when the phone company or government agent tracks them. Tracking is creepy and not something customers are demanding. Code should require the phone companies to provide phones that can not be routinely tracked. Instead, the price of modern convenien

    • As I understand it, if a cell phone is connected to the network, it is pretty easy to figure out where it is. I assume that having GPS on the phone improves the precision. The only way to make a cell phone that is untrackable is to turn it off.
      • I assume that having GPS on the phone improves the precision.

        Yes to a few yards. The only way to make a cell phone that is untrackable is to turn it off.

        I'm told that does not work. If you really don't want to be tracked you have leave it behind.

  • I won't bother linking to their site, since it doesn't feature the article, but this quarter's "2600" magazine has a feature on hacking this system. Essentially, it involves sending the verification SMS to the mobile to be tracked, and then spoofing the confirmation using one of the many available "fake" SMS message services to be found online.

    Deeply dodgy, and were I to be of a paranoid nature, I would definitely be carrying my cellphone switched off.
  • Old stuff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by russint ( 793669 )
    When I lived in Finland (5+ years ago), my carrier [sonera.fi] had some sort of tracking service. Basicly, you just sent an sms with a keyword to a specific number, and got a reply with an address.
    • any idea what the keyword is? i had sonera as my operator for the last three years and ive not heard of anything like this. instructions must be hidden away in the finnish part of the site.
  • The BBC ripped this off from a story the Guardian did over three weeks ago:

    http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,169 9156,00.html [guardian.co.uk]

    But still, scary stuff.
  • The article mentions there is no protection from location tracking other than the companies' Code of Conduct.

    It is not well-known that the same holds for reverse billing text messages ("premium SMS"); anyone can sign up to send these unsolicitedly.

    For example, you can write a short (less than 50 lines) bash script send-50p.sh that takes a mobile phone number and reverse-charges the receipient 50 pence (or, in fact anything up to 5 pounds per message) by sending them e.g. an empty (" ") text message - an

  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <slashdot@spamgoe ... m.org minus poet> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @06:55PM (#14805543) Homepage
    I have access to one of these systems, and I've been tracking myself on a website of mine for years now. Just for fun, really. (And to see if it would be a way police could monitor speeding - better to know if it's possible before they do it. :) It's not - there are too many errors - the cell sizes near motorways are too large and vague). The first thing anyone asks when I tell them is - can you track anyone? And I tell them, yes, on this network. The second thing they ask: Can you tell me where my girlfriend/boyfriend is right now? To which I tell them: I could, but I'm not going to.
    It's scary. I think a lot of people would abuse it given half a chance.
    You can sign up for developer accounts with most phone networks in the UK - but the queries are expensive. 10p each with a minimum of 5000 per month - that sort of thing.
  • Doesn't anyone worry about kids being tracked by childabusers?

  • "With more and more children owning mobile phones, special attention needs to be given to who can track them." But all those people who are 16 and up, no worries. We can all invade their privacy and track where they are 24/7 it's no big deal, right?
  • Mr Macleod? Of the Clan Macleod? He can't track me, I'm not even immortal.
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @10:24PM (#14806117) Homepage
    Phone tracking is bad. RFID tracking of people, bad. Spying on people, BAD BAD BAD.

    GPS or other tracking is BAD. I won't buy a new cell phone made after 2004 because they have government mandated GPS trackers built in, whether you want it or not. Software controlled shutoffs are garbage; the phone company can switch it back on if they so desire, probably without letting you know, at the request of any figure of authority.

    Give me at least a phone where the GPS is a physical module that I can depower or remove. Anything else is a little government/corporate/anybody-who-cares-to spying machine.

    As for kidnappers and, oh god, here we go, pedophiles: um, they'd throw the phone in a metal box or down a sewer or onto a freight train bound for Toronto.

    Tracking people on cellphones should be done only with the permission of the user. Anything else is just police state horse manure.

    I am beginning to realize that my generation, which grew up with an expectation of privacy and dignity, is not explaining the problem to newer generations which grew up in schools with dogs searching their lockers, with strip searches, metal detectors, ID badges, probably anal cavity searches done at will on their persons for no damned reason at all. I've only recently paid attention to how differently most of you view civil liberties, given that you never experienced them. Your gestalt acquiesance to the police state that you poor sods schooled under and then work for is genuinely shocking to me.

    I'm saying that you have no problems with being prisoners under a warden 'cause you were brought up that way, "for your safety". It is the fault of decades of parents becoming WAAAAAAYY too overprotective and fearful of bogeymen.

    You don't need to be tracked, unless you want to be. You shouldn't be required to be tracked to work for a living. The magic word is "no". Remember the magic word. Teach it to your children in turn.

    Remember, remember, the 5th of November.
    • You know, I always thought that 1984 and similar books would be sufficient to discourage ubiquitious government monitoring.

      I guess I was wrong.

      I remember the police chief in Houston just a couple days ago putting monitoring cameras up all over and saying "If you don't have anything to hide, then you don't have anything to worry about." Quote from 1984, but simply used in the opposite direction.

      Of course, Britain already *has* cameras all over, so I guess tracking is just the next logical extension. They'r
      • "I guess that the problem is that it's hard to stuff complex ideas into a pop movie"

        What a weird coincidence. Remember my closing line?

        "Remember, remember, the 5th of November"

        to finish:

        "The gunpowder treason and plot;
        I know of no reason,
        why the gunpowder treason,
        should ever be forgot."

        It's the English ditty commemorating the attempted bombing of Parliment by Guy Fawkes. I quoted it because it is the tag line of "V for Vendetta", a pop movie coming out in the middle of this month.

  • People are just going to have to be a lot more secure about their mobile phone numbers.

    Of course, technology and the whole security thing isn't going to sort this mess out, so we'll have to take action into our own hands.

    This means changing your sim for example, of course - once this exploit gets down to a nifty little illegal pc app to allow you to track any number you want, many people will have access to it and privacy will just go down the drain.

    I for one, will change my sim if they don't secure this, c
  • I couldn't care less if people new vaugely where I was all the time.

    I'd even write an interface to the system, that allowed my website to update automatically, and when someone visited, it would say "where am I?" and show a map of where I was at the time, perhaps even overlayed on google maps.

    All people are going to see is that I am at home, or at work, the addresses of both they could find without too much issue, or I'm on the road travelling somewhere.

    I don't see what the big deal is, if someone wants to
  • George Orwell couldn't imagine the present situation.

    On the propaganda side, not only there's a "telescreen", but it isn't needed to force people to watch it: They're stupid enough to watch it even if they're not forced to do so. Not only that, but for the greatest part of the society, life is completelly centered around TV. When people return from work, most of the times worktime and conmuting adding up more than half their time awake, and pay being of course pathetic, they do so in the cars TV shown them

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger