Commentary

05.22.14

Think that’s a cell phone you’re carrying?

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This is the fourth in a series of posts focusing on issues we will be tackling at the 2014 ACLU of Ohio biennial conference, Resist. Reclaim. Restore Your Rights!


It may make calls, but your cell phone is actually a tracking beacon.

Whenever it’s turned on, cell phones can provide real-time monitoring of your movements, historic information about where you’ve travelled, or collective information identifying any cell phones in a specific area at a specific time.

Law enforcement routinely obtains this information from telecommunications companies, often without a warrant.

Lots of information. About lots of people. In fact, in 2011, cell phone carriers responded to 1.3 million demands for subscriber information.

Register now for the 2014 Biennial Conference!

Recently, law enforcement began cutting out the middle man. Instead of obtaining records from cell phone carriers, some law enforcement agencies purchase cell site simulators.

Commonly referred to as “stingrays,” cell site simulators are portable devices used to mimic cell phone towers and trick wireless devices into communicating with them. Stingrays can capture cell phone location information, calls, texts, and additional information from your phone.

Where we go says a lot about us. By tracking cell phone locations, law enforcement can find out what political meetings we attend, where we worship, what medical care or counseling we receive, who we’re friends with, and whether we frequent places like gun shops or gay bars.

There are currently no rules in Ohio protecting your cell phone location information. The ACLU has been working to pass SB. 5, which would require, in non-emergencies, law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to getting location information from cell phone carriers.

Interested in learning more about the privacy implications of cell phones and other emerging technology? Join us at our 2014 biennial conference, Resist! Reclaim! Restore Your Rights!

Chris Soghoian, principal technologist for the ACLU, will present as the lunch plenary session keynote. A champion of digital privacy rights, Mr. Soghoian works at the intersection of technology, law, and policy.

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