Feds conflicted over cell phone tracking

As senators put Apple and Google executives on the defensive this week over their collection and saving of location-based data from mobile devices, the Justice Department is requesting that such data tracking continue, according to Information Week.

Justice is proposing that carriers maintain records of user locations for two years, according to gottabemobile, conflicting with lawmakers who don't want carriers to save data for more than a few days.

When it comes to catching criminals and solving crimes, the department says the location data collected could serve as a valuable tool.

"When this information is not stored, it may be impossible for law enforcement to collect essential evidence," Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general for Justice's Criminal Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee's Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee in a hearing May 10, reports gadgetoxic.

Of particular interest to the department is the Global Positioning System data that pertains to investigations on cyber crimes that target mobile devices, child abductions, and others in which a smart phone user's location is important, according to Information Week.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission wants to reduce the amount of tracking and told Congress the practice should only be used to provide a service or to complete a transaction, the article states.

Although most mobile services companies collect the longitude and latitude data of their customers, in recent weeks it was reported that Apple is storing this information in an unprotected, unencrypted way. Information can be collected by mobile providers to create a sort of cache to assist the devices in searching for information more quickly, but it is usually stored behind a firewall, wrote Government Computer News.

But Apple has since disputed the claim that it is tracking individuals. "The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone's location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone," it said in a statement.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.

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Reader comments

Tue, May 31, 2011

If your loved one gets kidnapped and the kidnapper, like a dummy, uses a cellphone to call in a ransom, don't you think it would be nice to know where that cellphone was being used during the months prior to the kidnapping. It sure might help law enforcement officials locate your loved one.

Fri, May 20, 2011 Dave K

Let's see... Lawmakers (meaning Congress) want to decrease by law the amount of time geolocation data is stored by companies... and Justice wants to require they keep it for two years? I'm shocked, here's a case where Congressional desires will actually SAVE a companies money. Justice would cost them, and the last thing we need is more burdensome regulation while the economy falters.

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