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    Wall Street Journal: Stalkers Exploit Cellphone GPS

    The Wall Street Journal continues its in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. The Journal series has prompted more Congressional interest in online tracking of consumers. Today, Congressmen Ed Markey (Democrat) and Joe Barton (Republican) sent a letter to 15 companies identified in the Journal articles.

    “We are troubled by the findings in this report, which suggest that the price of consumers’ unfettered use of the Internet increasingly is surrender of their personal information, preferences and intimate details to websites, data monitoring companies, marketers and other information gathering firms that seek to track them online and develop digital dossiers for a range of purposes, including marketing,” Markey and Barton wrote. “As Congress prepares to consider comprehensive privacy legislation, we request responses to the questions that follow to better understand your companies’ practices in this area.”

    In the latest installment, the Journal discusses the problems of location data-tracking and how it can be exploited by stalkers or domestic abusers. I’ve discussed the problems that can arise from location tracking via mobile phones or other GPS-enabled devices. In June, the Washington Post reported on the use of text messaging by domestic abusers against their victims. In May, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on an unusual lawsuit in Wisconsin against a GPS company; the plaintiff claims the firm assisted a domestic violence abuser to harm his victim. A 2009 report about stalking from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found: “Electronic monitoring was used to stalk 1 in 13 victims. Video or digital cameras were equally likely as listening devices or bugs to be used to electronically monitor victims (46% and 42%). Global positioning system (GPS) technology comprised about a tenth of the electronic monitoring of stalking victims.” Read more about the report here. Also, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has a paper about how abusers and stalkers use technology to control and harass their victims.

    Read my previous posts to learn about how location tracking is also being used by worried parents, suspicious spouses, some car dealerships, and British marketers to surreptitiously follow individuals.

    The Wall Street Journal reports:

    Global-positioning systems, called GPS, and other technologies used by phone companies have unexpectedly made it easier for abusers to track their victims. […]

    The cellphone industry says location-tracking programs are meant to provide a useful service to families, and that most providers take steps to prevent abuse. Mike Altschul, chief counsel for wireless-telecommunications trade group CTIA, says recommended “best practices” for providers of such services include providing notification to the person being tracked. […]

    Cellphone companies will deactivate a tracking function if law-enforcement officials inform them it is being used for stalking. Mr. Altschul says authorities haven’t asked carriers to change their programs. He adds that carriers have long supported programs to give untraceable cellphones to domestic-violence victims. […]

    In Arizona this year, Andre Leteve used the GPS in his wife’s cellphone to stalk her, according to his wife’s lawyer, Robert Jensen, before allegedly murdering their two children and shooting himself. Mr. Jensen says Mr. Leteve’s wife, Laurie Leteve, didn’t know she was being tracked until she looked at one of the family’s monthly cellphone bills, more than 30 days after the tracking began. […]

    There are various technologies for tracking a person’s phone, and with the fast growth in smartphones, new ones come along frequently. Earlier this year, researchers with iSec Partners, a cyber-security firm, described in a report how anyone could track a phone within a tight radius. All that is required is the target person’s cellphone number, a computer and some knowledge of how cellular networks work, said the report, which aimed to spotlight a security vulnerability. […]

    That is, in part, an unintended consequence of federal regulations that require cellphone makers to install GPS chips or other location technology in nearly all phones. The Federal Communications Commission required U.S. cellular providers to make at least 95% of the phones in their networks traceable by satellite or other technologies by the end of 2005. The agency’s intention was to make it easier for people in emergencies to get help. GPS chips send signals to satellites that enable police and rescue workers to locate a person.

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