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Your Location’s for Sale

Map symbol-pinThe Washington Post published a startling report that described how private companies who sell surveillance systems are marketing them to governments around the world, providing the means to track the movements of anyone who carries a cell phone — here or abroad.

A set of network protocols known as Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) allows cell phone carriers to collect location information from cell phone towers and share it with each other. So a US carrier can find a customer even if he or she travels to another country. From Wikipedia, 

Inasmuch as SS7 was not designed with security in mind, surveillance technology within the capabilities of non-state actors can be used to track the movements of cell phone users from virtually anywhere in the world with a success rate of approximately 70%

The Washington Post article says that marketers of surveillance systems also now have access to SS7, so that purchasers of these systems can home in on cell phone users’ locations as precisely as within a couple of city blocks (or in rural areas, a couple of miles). These systems can even detect how fast a person on a city street is walking, or the speed a person’s car is traveling!

According to Mother Jones, the carriers’ privacy policies aren’t protecting us very much, if at all.

Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T each promise their customers that their location is protected (with exceptions for emergencies and complying with court orders). AT&T’s privacy policy states, “We’ll give you prior notice and ask for your consent when your location is used or shared.” Verizon’s reads, “Verizon Wireless services that use mobile device location data provide you with notice about the collection and use of this data.” Sprint and T-Mobile make similar promises, although some of these companies include the caveat that they cannot protect data that is collected by third parties while a customer’s phone is roaming.

But telecommunications networks have become so complex that it would cost billions to install new security measures to defend against these surveillance systems, and these measures might negatively impact functioning of basic services like routing calls, text messages, and Internet access to customers.

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msmolly

msmolly

I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."