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admin | Category: Reverse Phone Lookup For Free | 06.12.2014
Two years ago, when the FBI was stymied by a band of armed robbers known as the "Scarecrow Bandits" that had robbed more than 20 Texas banks, it came up with a novel method of locating the thieves. FBI agents obtained logs from mobile phone companies corresponding to what their cellular towers had recorded at the time of a dozen different bank robberies in the Dallas area.
Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best.
In that case, the Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their--or at least their cell phones'--whereabouts. Those claims have alarmed the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, which have opposed the Justice Department's request and plan to tell the U.S.
Whether state and federal police have been paying attention to Hollywood, or whether it was the other way around, cell phone tracking has become a regular feature in criminal investigations. Obtaining location details is now "commonplace," says Al Gidari, a partner in the Seattle offices of Perkins Coie who represents wireless carriers. Gidari says that the Third Circuit case could have a significant impact on police investigations within the court's jurisdiction, namely Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; it could be persuasive beyond those states. And a mobile phone's fleeting connection with a remote cell tower operated by Edge Wireless is what led searchers to the family of the late James Kim, a CNET employee who died in the Oregon wilderness in 2006 after leaving a snowbound car to seek help. The way tracking works is simple: mobile phones are miniature radio transmitters and receivers. The Federal Communications Commission's "Enhanced 911" (E911) requirements allowed rough estimates to be transformed into precise coordinates.
T-Mobile, for instance, uses a GSM technology called Uplink Time Difference of Arrival, or U-TDOA, which calculates a position based on precisely how long it takes signals to reach towers. Lenihan's opinion (PDF)--which, in an unusual show of solidarity, was signed by four other magistrate judges--noted that location information can reveal sensitive information such as health treatments, financial difficulties, marital counseling, and extra-marital affairs.


In its appeal to the Third Circuit, the Justice Department claims that Lenihan's opinion "contains, and relies upon, numerous errors" and should be overruled. Cellular providers tend not to retain moment-by-moment logs of when each mobile device contacts the tower, in part because there's no business reason to store the data, and in part because the storage costs would be prohibitive. Verizon Wireless keeps "phone records including cell site location for 12 months," Drew Arena, Verizon's vice president and associate general counsel for law enforcement compliance, said at a federal task force meeting in Washington, D.C. Gidari, the Seattle attorney, said that wireless carriers have recently extended how long they store this information. 4sellbyccBig Savings Guide to Purchasing a Cell PhoneAlthough cellular phones have increased in popularity and demand, their prices continue to soar. The voluminous records showed that two phones had made calls around the time of all 12 heists, and that those phones belonged to men named Tony Hewitt and Corey Duffey.
On Friday, the first federal appeals court to consider the topic will hear oral arguments (PDF) in a case that could establish new standards for locating wireless devices. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that Americans' privacy deserves more protection and judicial oversight than what the administration has proposed.
In 1998's "Enemy of the State," Gene Hackman warned that the National Security Agency has "been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the '40s--they've infected everything." After a decade of appearances in "24" and "Live Free or Die Hard," location-tracking has become such a trope that it was satirized in a scene with Seth Rogen from "Pineapple Express" (2008). It comes in two forms: police obtaining retrospective data kept by mobile providers for their own billing purposes that may not be very detailed, or prospective data that reveals the minute-by-minute location of a handset or mobile device. In a subsequent Arizona case, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration tracked a tractor trailer with a drug shipment through a GPS-equipped Nextel phone owned by the suspect. A cellular tower knows the general direction of a mobile phone (many cell sites have three antennas pointing in different directions), and if the phone is talking to multiple towers, triangulation yields a rough location fix. Wireless carriers using CDMA networks, such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, tend to use embedded GPS technology to fulfill E911 requirements.


Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan in Pennsylvania denied the Justice Department's attempt to obtain stored location data without a search warrant; prosecutors had invoked a different legal procedure. They do, however, keep records of what tower is in use when a call is initiated or answered--and those records are generally stored for six months to a year, depending on the company. Department of Justice lawyers say that "a customer's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records" that show where a mobile device placed and received calls. Texas DEA agents have used cell site information in real time to locate a Chrysler 300M driving from Rio Grande City to a ranch about 50 miles away.
AT&T and T-Mobile comply with E911 regulations using network-based technology that computes a phone's location using signal analysis and triangulation between towers. Lenihan's ruling, in effect, would require police to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause--a more privacy-protective standard. District Judge William Pauley, a Clinton appointee in New York, wrote in a 2009 opinion that a defendant in a drug trafficking case, Jose Navas, "did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the cell phone" location. Arena said the company keeps "phone bills without cell site location for seven years," and stores SMS text messages for only a very brief time.
Attorney's Office for the northern district of Texas, which prosecuted the Scarecrow Bandits mentioned in the above article, tells me that this was the first and the only time that the FBI has used the location-data-mining technique to nab bank robbers. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile logs showing the location of mobile phones at the time calls became evidence in a Los Angeles murder trial. It's also worth noting that the leader of this gang, Corey Duffey, was sentenced last month to 354 years (not months, but years) in prison.




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