filed in GPS Cell Phone Information on Feb.09, 2010
Snooping around the Internet for some interesting content I found this little gem from the Colbert Report about GPS cell phone tracking. Apparently, Sprint had a cell phone tracking application that they turned on so that they could more easily disclose the location of their customers to the government. In just about a year, they have turned over around eight million (8,000,000) locations at the request of the government. That amounts to just a hair under 22,000 requests a day.
Here is the entire segment of the video, which also includes jabs at Obama, Yahoo, Google, and the American people:
While I personally find this type of thing pretty funny, it probably does not give the entire story either. For example, when a 9-1-1 call is made on a cell phone, companies like Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc. are required by law to be able to hand over the position of the cell phone that made the 9-1-1 call to a government agency. Some companies d this through cell tower trilateration while others use GPS. I believe that Sprint uses GPS, and with somewhere between fifteen and twenty million (15,000,000 to 20,000,000) 9-1-1 calls a year it would seem that at least some portion of the cell phone locations handed over by Sprint would have something to do with that.
In general, the idea that the government is somehow systematically tracking its citizens and violating their privacy for no good reason is something that I personally find humorous. In general, I think that the government is just trying to do its job of protecting its citizens and that it has no ill intent to law abiding individuals. There is no secret agenda and the cell phone GPS tracking is not as widespread as some people seem to fear.
There is a real danger for people when they are willing to exchange certain individual liberties for security, but I’m not very sure that knowing where you are is a violation of your individual liberty. A lot of people disagree with me, so I take that with a grain of salt. But to me, there is nothing about where I go or what I do that I feel like I need to hide from the rest of the world. If ever I was charged with some sort of crime or was suspected of being a terrorist I think that there would be nothing in my personal location history that I would want to suppress.
With that said, there is a type of GPS tracking for cell phones that I do find particularly dastardly. It has to do with taking my information and using to try and sell me crap. The thing that I don’t like about this is that I do not want to be sold stuff and I particularly do not want to be sold stuff based upon the places I go. I want my location information to be something that is between me, my family, all the people that see me at the places I go, all the people that see me going to the places I go, and potentially the government if they have some reason to want to know where I go. The fact that private companies can also use that information to make me part of their marketing campaign rubs me the wrong way.
In general, I am happy for little bits of GPS cell phone tracking humor like this clip from the Colbert Report. It exposes more people to the things that cell phones can do and how they are being used by the governments, corporations, and individuals. With this knowledge people can make informed decisions about how they want to use their mobile devices and can be empowered to take full advantage of the technology at their disposal.