Saturday, February 04, 2006

In Soviet America, 911 dials YOU!

It's for your security!

Mind some dumb-ass questions about cell phone location technology and policy for something I'm writing? I'm having trouble finding a site on the Web that talks about this at a sufficient level of ignorance.

I understand that by 2005, 95% of cell phones in the US need to be able to broadcast their location with an accuracy of 50-150m. This is part of the FCC's e911 ("Enhanced 911") act. Here's what I don't understand:

1. The wireless carriers are required to track that information only if you make a 911 call. But will my cell phone be broadcasting its location continuously, or only when I make a 911 call?

2. I'm confused about the tech used by cell phones to determine location. Is it GPS? (If so, what happens when I'm indoors or in an urban canyon? And, if so, a GPS device receives; it doesn't transmit. So does the location information just get encoded as a header or something in a 911 call? In all calls?) If it's not GPS, what is it?

I'd ask smarter questions if I could. And, of course, please feel free to correct the part that I think I understand, too.

Ah, don't you just love the warm and fuzzy feeling of having the state track your every movements?

UPDATE: In response to a reader's comment, I would like to clarify a few things. Yes, the technology used by recent cell phones is GPS, at least in the United States, as was ordered by the FCC. And if accorcding to the article, this would benefit several companies, it is unlikely that tracking will be exclusive to 911 calls.


At 6:11 PM, Anonymous worker201 said...

Most cellular phones are not GPS capable. And most cellular services are not satellite based. Cellular phones work by transmitting signals from "radio" towers. Right now, the only positional tracking they can do is to decide which tower you are closer to, and then transfer your call to that tower. So you sorta have to know where the phone is. But it's not like the radio tower is currently tracking positional data, as far as I know. They merely compare signal strengths, and decide which tower will handle your call. And of course that will change if you are moving. For a pretty good discussion about how the radio towers do this, check out howstuffworks.

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Laukev7 said...

Rght. You might want to see this following story though:

Basically, it says everything you just did, but the FCC ordered all cell phones made since 2002 to be equipped with GPS. True, most cellphones are not equipped with it yet because they were bought before 2002, but obviously cellphones are going to pose privacy problems in the future.


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