By Eve Troeh, Marketplace Tech
Imagine your car gets stolen but your cell phone is in it. The
police can ask the phone company to turn on a service that tracks your
phone’s location, and help the cops find the thief.
“Law enforcement can ping users’ cell phones and other devices and
learn where they are in real time,” says Chris Hoofnagle, director of
the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.
Hoofnagle says police around the country “ping” cell phones every
day, to catch suspects in the act. But for phone companies, it’s a
thorny issue. They get so many police requests, Hoofnagle says, they
need full-time staff to handle them.
“Most companies do not want to provide this information to law enforcement, but they feel pressure to do so,” says Hoofnagle.
The companies don’t want it getting out that they’ll let police
“ping” your phone if it’s involved in a crime. Because, well, lots of
customers are already freaked out over digital privacy. And while
tracking your phone could help solve a crime in the moment, it could
also violate rights, without proper cause.