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‘They’ know where you are (your phone tells them)

Sun 2011-Mar-27 @ +08 12:58:41 pm

Politician’s location tracked 35,000 times in six months

German privacy advocate Malte Spitz found that the phone company had recorded his location 35,000 times over six months. [NYT photo]

Mobile phones must always know where you are, otherwise cellphone calls won’t reach you. Calls are relayed from cell to cell, before reaching your phone, which tells the nearest relay tower where you are.

It might seem a trivial matter to FourSquare freaks whose phones annoyingly Tweet their locations everywhere they go. But it puts a lot of private data in the hands of phone companies — and, or course, with security agencies also.

In Germany, Malte Spitz, a Green party politician, went to court to find out how much his phone company knew about him. The results were astounding, the New York Times reported.

In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010 — Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin.

Unlike many online services and Web sites that must send “cookies” to a user’s computer to try to link its traffic to a specific person, cellphone companies simply have to sit back and hit “record.”

“We are all walking around with little tags, and our tag has a phone number associated with it, who we called and what we do with the phone,” said Sarah E. Williams, an expert on graphic information at Columbia University’s architecture school. “We don’t even know we are giving up that data.”

Is CCTV everywhere such a good idea?

How to balance between protecting citizens and protecting their privacy: a new concern for urban and wired societies

The technology for cellphones has always depended on phones reporting where they are. Malte Spitz has just confirmed the increasing loss of privacy in an inter-connected world, and the increasing amount of private information being made available to people and organisations beyond one’s control.

Whether it’s Google Streets, or the security cameras in almost every mamak shop, mini-market or 7-Eleven — and even in Rapid buses — more and more of our private lives are ending up in other people’s hands.

The next time that dereliction of duty in the police force prompts housing estate residents and city dwellers to demand CCTV coverage of every street junction. And don’t be fooled by the knee-jerk howling of CCTV suppliers and others who say it’s increasingly and absolutely necessary.

READ MORE at New York Times…


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