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Ear to the Ground

Thanks to Sprint, the Cops May Have a GPS Fix on You

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Posted on Dec 2, 2009
Original: crd! CC-BY-SA

Most mobile phones have tiny GPS chips that do things like give directions or route your call to the right city when you dial 911. It turns out that law enforcement can ask phone companies for GPS info that reveals exactly where a phone owner is, and, according to a disturbing piece of audio making the rounds, the cops asked Sprint-Nextell for the locations of customers 8 million times in one year.

What that means exactly is unclear. You can find the recording below. In it, a Sprint corporate security officer (as labeled by the company), says:

[M]y major concern is the volume of requests. We have a lot of things that are automated but that’s just scratching the surface. One of the things, like with our GPS tool. We turned it on the web interface for law enforcement about one year ago last month, and we just passed 8 million requests. So there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone. So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement. They also love that it is extremely inexpensive to operate and easy, so, just the sheer volume of requests they anticipate us automating other features, and I just don’t know how we’ll handle the millions and millions of requests that are going to come in.

Sprint has not revealed how it responded to those requests, but the company has acknowledged receiving them and said in a statement: “The comments made by a Sprint corporate security officer during a recent conference have been taken out of context by this blogger. Specifically, the ‘8 million’ figure, which the blogger highlights in his email and blog post, has been grossly misrepresented.”

Sprint’s take, at least as reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is that just because it got 8 million requests that doesn’t mean it said yes 8 million times. It also doesn’t mean it said no.

We live in a surveillance state and it comes as no surprise to find out that The Man wants to keep tabs on John Doe’s whereabouts—but 8 million requests? Keep in mind that Sprint is only the third-largest carrier in the country.

Part of the problem is that Sprint made it easy to request the information by building an automated Web site.

Here’s the post that sparked the story. The EFF has a much more comprehensive rundown. We first heard about it on Engadget—PZS

 

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By larry king, December 26, 2009 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Patrick henry credo actually just piggybacks with
sprints network, i’ve been considering making the
switch, but i’m definatly going to grill the phone
sales person about this.

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By Jambug, December 14, 2009 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Shift:

Right on.  Buy local; support Mom & Pop - they rock.  Get a used bike.  Make stuff for your neighbors.  Unplug.  I like that.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, December 3, 2009 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment

Credo has a better political agenda.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, December 3, 2009 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

Privacy——fuhgettaboutit!  It’s impossible to hide in an electronic world.  From cell phones to GPS to EZ-pass to metro-cards to credit cards to debit cards to library cards to public cameras——your every move can just about be tracked.  The only way around this is to empty your pockets, shave your ass, and walk backwards!

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By gerard, December 3, 2009 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

There’s just gotta be a way to up-end this whole thing.  Isn’t there some smart hacker out there who can figure out a way for every connected individual in the country to “phone home” (the central surveillance agency) once every minute so their lines or waves or connections or whatever are completely jammed and too numerous to be deciphered, decoded, or something?  If I was young, I could really get into this. Push it over the edge?  Turn it against itself?  Electronic Judo, anyone?

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By Howie Bledsoe, December 3, 2009 at 4:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well, you don´t HAVE to have a cell phone, and if you do, stop bitching.

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By Shift, December 3, 2009 at 4:14 am Link to this comment

Dump Sprint and unplug from the corporate world.  Do it now.

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