Can You Be Tracked By Your Cell Phone

Tracked Location via Cell Phone

Photo by [JessicaGale] morgueFile

Since the technological revolution is upon us privacy has become more and more a thing of concern. Particularly can you be tracked or traced by your cell phone. This is something I hear people talk about quite often so I thought it would be interesting to dig into the facts behind this.

How Can Your Cell Phone Reveal Your Location

There are many ways that a cell phone or smart phone may reveal a persons location, but the simplest method would start by determining which cell phone tower was used in transmitting a persons call.

When you call someone on your cell phone, the signal that is transmitted will search for the nearest tower available to handle the signal. Once a connection is established via one of the towers, that transmission is generally logged and stored in a database pretty much indefinitely. The information is usually stored on the cell phone providers network computers, but this information is not generally disclosed to the wireless customer.

Urban areas have towers that are generally responsible for covering areas of 1 to 2 square miles, this makes pinpointing a callers general location pretty simple. Although the exact coordinates may not be possible, they can get pretty close and would be able to close in on your fairly quickly.

More Advanced Cell Phone Tracking Methods

Of course as days go by technology advances with it, and so does the means to track callers via their cell phone. The more modern approach to this would be integrating the use of satellites.

Most all modern cell phones or smart phones are now equipped with GPS or Global Positioning System chips that can determine the exact geological coordinates of a cell phone callers location. This is done by signal transmissions bouncing back and forth between a satellite array and the cell phone in question.

The GPS chip will take into consideration the differences in arrival times of this signal to calculate the phone’s coordinates. This is done by use of a mathematical process known as trilateration. GPS enabled phones are becoming more and more common due to enhanced 911. The Federal Communications Commission has rules in place mandating that emergency operators are to be able to trace wireless calls at any time.

I believe it is now law that all newly produced cell phones must be E911 compliant. They say that non-emergency GPS data is not recorded due to privacy issues. But I’m sure there are some conspiracies at play that would refute this statistic.

I’m sure most major governments have an interest in how cell phones are being used and want statistics on the busiest and slowest traffic times which would be all too easy to accomplish using GPS tracking. But we won’t go too far into conspiracies in this post.

How is Location Data Used in Criminal Cases

Data collected from cell phone tower records is used in criminal cases quite a bit these days.

One great example of how this technology was vital was during the prosecution of David Westerfield. He was convicted of killing 7 year old Danielle van Dam in San Diego, California. His cell phone records revealed quite an interesting travel pattern during the two days after the girl had disappeared. It was also discovered he made a unusual trip to the desert.

Even though his cell phone records were a huge part of the evidence in this case, they still couldn’t acquire this evidence without a court order. But these records have been known to slip out during desperate time sensitive cases such as kidnappings and disappearances.

So it is in fact possible to track and locate someone via their cell phone in a couple of different ways. But it’s not as easy as just opening a map real quick, or is it?

Cell Phone Tower

Photo by [ronnieb] morgueFile

Some modern cell phones now have tracking systems that will allow two parties to see where they are at all times, but normally this is a service that both parties have to enable or agree to use. I haven’t used it myself but I think it works sort of like accepting a friend request on a social network. Basically each person has to allow the other before they will show up on the map.

If you are a paranoid type of person and are constantly worried that the eye in the sky is stalking you, then you can probably rest a little easier. Because even though it’s possible to be tracked or traced by your cell phone, it is highly unlikely. Unless of course you’ve done something very wrong and the law is out to get ya.

And for those conspiracy theorists out there, I have no doubt, but that’s for another discussion…

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14 thoughts on “Can You Be Tracked By Your Cell Phone
  1. Great post. I learned a lot more about how tracked we are by our cells.
    Keep up the good work

  2. Hi,
    Very interesting reading so this means if someone want to find me from the other side of the world they can really do this by tracking my cell phone.
    You never get piece in your mind as long you have a cell phone.

    1. Hi Larry, thanks for commenting. I suppose technology comes at a price and privacy is something unfortunately we rarely get these days!

    1. I have to agree Jim… The benefits of these features definitely outweigh the harm they may cause us.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll check that out after I get off work. Just on my lunch break right now.

      Thanks for commenting!

    1. Yah Morgan, I suppose we have to be aware before diving into the latest technology. Even though it may sound awesome, doesn’t mean that may not be risks to privacy.

  3. Westerfield’s cell phone records played very little part in that 2002 case. They merely confirmed that he went to the Strand when he said he did (Saturday morning); went from the gas station to the desert when he said he did (Saturday evening and night), and along the route he said he took (the northern one through Ramona); and went from the gas station back to the Strand when he said he did (Sunday evening) (see pages 589 and 590 of the book “Rush to Judgement”)
    These records, together with witness testimony and gas receipts, show that it’s unlikely he went to the body dump site, which is well to the south of his route.
    His trip to the desert was only a little different from his usual trips there, and the differences can be explained by the fact that he was alone on this trip, whereas he was normally accompanied by someone else, such as his son or girlfriend.

    1. Thank you Eureka for such a passionate explanation about the case. Even though this post wasn’t exactly centered on this trial but more of how you can be tracked by your cell phone, it is still interesting information you’ve shared here. I haven’t explored or researched much about the Westerfield case, I was just aware his cell phone records came into play, so I thought that tid bit kind of fit in with the topic of discussion.

  4. i still use an old Nokia phone,
    best phone quality ever, unbreakable, and it’s battery lasts 2 weeks,
    it is not a smartphone, so no GPS and no internet, no nothing,
    and i couldn’t care less.
    completely detached and free and happy with my privacy 🙂
    people are so conditioned to be addicted and depended on the smartphones, there’s life and socializing outside the scope of your Iphones and Facebook and Twitter you know!!
    Many thanks and Best wishes!

    1. You know Mitch that’s pretty slick of you to use what was once top of the line technology to combat what eventually evolved into privacy infringing technology. Who would of though they produced the means to bypass all this future tech before it was even created. 🙂

  5. I sometimes feel very unsafe because I know that my Smartphone may be making my life easier but at the same time I know it can turn into a spy. As technology is enhancing… it is making us carry a spy in out pockets.

    1. Jenny you are not alone in these fears of technology. I do believe considering the mass amount of people on the planet that use smartphones this type of invasion would have to be triggered off of keywords or activities that may make someone shine as a thread to a nation. Basically, if you are using keywords in your conversations such as , assassination, bomb, CIA etc. this may trigger an event that would warrant the government “keeping an eye” on you. But for the average citizen, I doubt the government would spend the huge amounts of money it would take to monitor everyone’s activities. So as long as your not up to “no good” then I’m sure your privacy is safe.

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