February 6, 2002
8:50 AM   Subscribe

E911 technology allows for the location of a cellular phone to be determined by the wireless service provider within several hundred feet. As consequence, privacy groups have been extremely resistant to the implementation of E911. In the wake of the September 11 tragedies, however, the balance between privacy concerns and national security to have changed for many American citizens. Sort of via 2600 This seems to be coming, what do you think?
posted by thirteen (20 comments total)
What do I think? I think the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

IOW, like any other invasive technology, this should be available to the criminal justice system only if judge issues a warrant based upon probable cause. Not otherwise.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:54 AM on February 6, 2002

"people who are willing to give up a little freedom for a little security deserve neither."
- ben franklin
posted by jcterminal at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2002

I thought this little bit was particularly ugly
In addition to the basic question of whether consumers will have their location tracking shared with commercial services, concerns regarding anonymity and long-term information tracking and storage remain. For advertisers, functional anonymity may not turn out to be a deal breaker; for example, Burger King may like to know your real name when they send you the 10% off coupon as you drive past their store, but it will probably be sufficient for their purposes to know that you are inclined to eat at a variety of fast food restaurants when you are on the road and you are near one of theirs. So long as the wireless service provider or its advertising tracking service is able to generate a sufficient profile based on past preferences and location history, most advertisers will not need to know who that profile describes specifically.
You cute little cell phone can become the traitor on your hip. I hope there will be a system in place to allow you to opt out of e911 all together, but I am not hopeful. The GPS system that may be required to be built into future phones are expected to add $50 to the cost of the phones too.
posted by thirteen at 9:01 AM on February 6, 2002

This isn't a matter of lobbying for the prevention of something. It's a matter of repealing something that's in place. Most if not all cell phones can already be triangulated within ~500 feet of their actual location.
posted by tomorama at 9:05 AM on February 6, 2002

I don't know, if I was partially crushed underneath an avalanche, a building that collapsed, or just really lost in the woods, and I could call the authorities with my cell, but they couldn't figure out where I was using the signal, I'd be pissed.
posted by panopticon at 9:05 AM on February 6, 2002

I'm all for it, provided that (a) the default is the 'off' mode, (b) it can be turned on or off very easily, and (c) there is a visible indicator of whether or not it is on.

If advertisers want to use it to track me and have information about my habits and to foist location-based adverts on me, then they should pay for the damned thing.
posted by yesster at 9:07 AM on February 6, 2002

Most if not all cell phones can already be triangulated within ~500 feet of their actual location.
Ah yes, I believe there are mandates on the new system to bring that down to a dramaticly smaller range, something like >75'.
posted by thirteen at 9:11 AM on February 6, 2002

panoptican is in the same ballpark as the next thing I was going to say. There are good and bad parts to this.

Bad part: possible privacy invasion.

Good part: when you crash your car 100 miles from home, you want your 911 call to go to the 911 switchboard in that town, not the switchboard back home where you bought your phone.

I do agree though that this shouldn't be something that's "always on" and you don't have a choice in it.
posted by tomorama at 9:17 AM on February 6, 2002

If this causes fewer people to use the things or to keep them turned off most of the time, I'm all for it.

That being said, I wouldn't be so concerned with the gov. or advertisers as I would be with your place of employment. I can imagine your boss 'requiring' you to have a company-provided cell for business purposes then using it to keep tabs on you during your off hours. i.e. how much time do you spend at the local bar/crackhouse during lunch or afterwork? When you call in sick are you really at home or at the beach?
posted by plaino at 9:25 AM on February 6, 2002

Quick, someone point out that this is harmless if you're not doing anything wrong!

Please don't let me down.
posted by Skot at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2002

This is harmless if you're not doing anything wrong!
posted by iceberg273 at 9:59 AM on February 6, 2002

[Elton]Someone Icy saved my life tonight.[/Elton]
posted by Skot at 10:11 AM on February 6, 2002

Most 911 services already provide phone number and location information to the operators (handy when you can't speak or lose consciousness). Of course, that if for fixed-location phones, but it doesn't matter whether or not you have an unlisted number.
posted by tommasz at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2002

Will the E911 technology be mandated in all phones in the US at some point in the near future? I would guess yes. If so, will this create a tiny black market for phones that are imported from Canada or another less-invasive state and don't have these things in them? I hope so because I don't feel like taking a dremel to my phone and busting the GPS device.

Of course, these things will become a lot more marketable (that is to say, unavoidable) when they start to do all the things that onStar and such do now, like give you directions with little maps from your current position to restaurants and movie theaters and stuff. Privacy concerns always fall under the heel of the drive to consume. Or, any tangible consumer benefit will easily outweigh any squeamishness.
posted by donkeymon at 10:38 AM on February 6, 2002

Cell phones can be our new national Id's! The tracking element was definitely missing from the drivers licence idea. They can even call you up, and tell you to report to jail!
posted by thirteen at 10:46 AM on February 6, 2002

Since they (you know - them) can currently track you to within 500 feet of your location, changing that to 75 feet isn't much of a difference when it comes to criminal activities. Neither 500 nor 75 feet is really granular enough to track you to a particular location (though if you were standing in the middle of Sam's Club, Home Depot, WalMart or Best Buy they'll know where you are, but if you're REALLY concerned about your privacy, you aren't shopping at those places anyway).

For law enforcement, the current range is enough to prove or disprove an alibi based on phone records alone. For 911 calls, however, the change can be of significant help.

If you want to be completely anonymous, don't use a cell phone or buy the re-fillable ones at the minimart. The phone company, in order to accurately bill you, must track where you made the call from (roaming charges) and who you were calling (long distance) and how long you were on the phone (total minutes).
posted by donpardo at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2002

The world sure seems awfully Orwellian lately.....

I see cellphone use itself as an invasion of privacy, though, so I'm not too surprised. To quote Arsenic and Old Lace (I think), "Telephone? Bah! I'll not be rung upon like a common servant!"
posted by kaibutsu at 1:34 PM on February 6, 2002

Neither 500 nor 75 feet is really granular enough to track you to a particular location

That is now, where are we 3 years from now, 10 years from now? Why not just have a panic button that you turn on when you want to be tracked? I feel the ground crumbling.
posted by thirteen at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2002

Did You Know?

When you stare into the mobile phone "screen", your image is instantly transferred to a central database controlled by the NSA.
posted by Neale at 7:20 PM on February 6, 2002

Hope the "bad guys" don't find out about that!
*makes face at cell phone, enters the halfbakery*
posted by sheauga at 8:45 PM on February 6, 2002

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