Compulsory location indicators in cellphones

February 11th, 2012 at 10:41 am by David Farrar

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports:

Technology allowing police and other authorities to identify the location of callers may become mandatory for all cellphones in New Zealand in a move to improve the 111 emergency calling system.

But although the proposal could save lives, Telecom and the Commissioner have rung alarm bells.

The mandatory global positioning system (GPS) idea was raised in a discussion paper reviewing the 111 system issued yesterday by Communications Minister Amy Adams.

Umm, no.

I’ve chosen to have GPS on my cellphone. Personally I like the idea of the authorities being able to trace me in case of emergency. Hell, I’m even on Foursquare, so I boroadcast my location to several hundred people.

But that is my choice. Equally I should have the choice of being able to use a cellphone that does not indicate my location.

Once the Government has the ability to detect your location via your cellphone for one purpose (a noble one), there is a slippery slope that they will want to use it for other purposes.

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37 Responses to “Compulsory location indicators in cellphones”

  1. peterwn (3,192 comments) says:

    Mandatory GPS would help Corrections when cell phones are used as cell phones.

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  2. hmmokrightitis (1,552 comments) says:

    All of our mobile service providers (VF, Telecom & 2D) have the capability, if requested by the police, to use the tools at their disposal to pinpoint the location of a cellphone, even if its switched off. Court orders are required to use the software that allows this to happen. Takes a while, and Ive only seen it done once, but it is truly amazing.

    You can run, but you cannot hide, at least with a phone in your back pocket :)

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  3. adze (1,934 comments) says:

    Even if it’s switched off? How?

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  4. hmmokrightitis (1,552 comments) says:

    Im told it has something to do with the fact that the network can “ping” a phone, much like you ping computers. The instance I watched was two network engineers, working in tandem, with Police oversight, to find a missing person. Took about an hour, from memory they had to triangulate multiple cell sites, which is why it takes ages. Bloody amazing to watch. But then Im a geek :)

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  5. db.. (79 comments) says:

    Heh, It’s late, your missus phones. You have answered you GPS cellphone and you cannot lie.
    Ha Ha Ha Ha, You will have to be quick or you will have to tell the other, to bugger off.

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  6. flipper (3,751 comments) says:

    hmmook…

    1. But how can they ping something if it is switched off?
    2. When “switched-off”, would it not be inert?

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  7. hmmokrightitis (1,552 comments) says:

    flipper, I honestly dont know, even the CIO that I was working with isnt allowed to “know” about it or how it works. I was allowed to watch but not ask questions. I remember one of the cops asking one of the techs what else it could do…seconds later his phone rang, he answered it and his voice came across speakers in the office. Its bloody black magic, honest to god, it is. But as noted, its only allowed to be used via request from the Police, who need a Court order to make that happen.

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  8. flipper (3,751 comments) says:

    hmmo..
    Ok.
    The Lundy case was different, was it not?

    Seem to recall that this is becoming a serious issue in the US.

    May be someone knows.

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  9. gander (89 comments) says:

    Manufacturers of tinfoil hats are at this moment designing new lines that incorporate cellphone pockets.

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  10. Chris2 (765 comments) says:

    In contrast, several years ago a reclusive man with mild mental illness problems was believed to have gone missing in the Waitakere bush, Auckland.

    His family had no recent photo’s of him to give searchers or the Police, but his Driver Licence was only a couple of years old and his family approached the NZTA and asked for a copy of his driver Licence photograph. NZTA refused.

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  11. Johnboy (15,382 comments) says:

    Us people who seriously get off the beaten track usually buy a PLB and then WE can decide if we want to be located! :)

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  12. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    Any way to get Amy Adams booted out of the National Party?

    This is one of the most offensive ideas I have heard in a while. I would have expected it to come from Clare Curran or Darien Fenton.

    Of course she’ll say “I was just raising the idea for discussion”, but that it a stupid thing to do. It’s a prima facie stupid idea, and three seconds of thinking-before-speaking is enough depth to confirm that it really is a stupid idea.

    Was it actually Adams who suggested it? Because it’s an affront to common sense, and an insult to the population’s autonomy. I can usually forgive a stupid idea or two, but this one it just putrid.

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  13. Martin Gibson (229 comments) says:

    When I have dialled 111 I have been astonished at how clunky the system is. You have to tell them your number a few times, then describe your location to someone who knows nothing about the local geography. If something serious is happening it is pretty frustrating. It would be a good idea to allow people to register with the system so when you call in 111 it comes up with your details number and location. If just one in 20 NEw Zealanders did this it would make the police a lot more effective.

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  14. Paulus (2,539 comments) says:

    db

    buy another phone without GPS.

    Voluntary yes – compulsory no

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  15. Nick K (1,099 comments) says:

    An easy solution is not to have a cellphone. They are *not* a necessary tool at all. Who cares if someone can’t get hold of you! That’s excellent. Sometimes I wish I could just be left alone!!

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  16. tvb (4,229 comments) says:

    No no no. The damn bureaucrats just cannot keep out of our lives. Yes I have this on my iPhone but if any damn bureaucrat wants to hack into where I am they can get fxxxed

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  17. Scott Chris (5,941 comments) says:

    Yea, choice is mostly good. Mind you, I could see a major upside to all cars and parolees being fitted with GPS devices. I think they inevitably will be.

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  18. ben (2,412 comments) says:

    Again and again, folks think that to get a good idea rolled out you have to have government force it on the world, apparently because we’re all too stupid to work out what’s good for us.

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  19. peterwn (3,192 comments) says:

    trisanb – Are you serious that a MP should be expelled for raising a matter of general public concern? Also, it would be grossly unreasonable to expel an otherwise top performing MP because what might be considered a minor slip-up.

    A few relevant points here:
    If a person who has called 111 dies or suffers permanent harm because he or she cannot be located, the ‘nearest and dearest’ will legitimately ask what can be done to resolve the problem in the future. It is not surprising that there is strong political pressure in this area. It is similar to the case of reclusive peple who die in state or council dwellings and are not found for a while.

    It is quite legitimate for agencies and politicians to look for a solution to such a problem, and they soon recognise they have a ‘public safety’ v privacy issue oon their hands.

    The issue has been raised in USA with internet phone service with politicians trying to find a solution to a problem (interestingly even 30 years ago some USA communities did not have a 911 service, and you had to stick a dime in a pay phone even to get the operator).

    The approximate location of a cell phone can be found with some effort, but GPS would be far more accurate.

    When I am old and doddery I would like a cell cum satellite phone with GPS and a ‘pendant’ button so I can call for help from home or anywhere else (preferably world wide).

    I usually keep the GPS feature turned off to save battery but if the rescue services can legitimately use it if I got into trouble, I would leave it switched on.

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  20. slijmbal (1,223 comments) says:

    “1. But how can they ping something if it is switched off?
    2. When “switched-off”, would it not be inert?”

    I believe it actually depends on the cellphone but turning it off is similar to the off on a TV in some models. It’s not really off and draws a tiny current. Pull the battery out if really worried.

    FYI – Every phone has a unique ID that is independent of the SIM card and can be identified when a call is made. So swapping the SIM card out is not enought to hide.

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  21. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    trisanb – Are you serious that a MP should be expelled for raising a matter of general public concern?

    No. She should be expelled because she is suggesting compulsory GPS location indicators in mobile phones! Why should it be compulsory to be found, sure it could be a choice, but why would anyone in a democracy even contemplate forcing everyone to have a phone with GPS that can be read?!

    The party’s lucky the Herald didn’t headline the story “National Party considers compulsory tracking of cellphones“.

    Also, it would be grossly unreasonable to expel an otherwise top performing MP because what might be considered a minor slip-up.

    There’s stupidity, and then there’s stupidity. Amy Adams seems to have fewer brains than Melissa Lee.

    If a person who has called 111 dies or suffers permanent harm because he or she cannot be located, the ‘nearest and dearest’ will legitimately ask what can be done to resolve the problem in the future.

    What if the person forgot their phone? Maybe it should be compulsory to carry a mobile? Or what about tracking bracelets on everyone’s ankles? Oh, they’d have to be compulsory, because what if the family complained that the person was not wearing their bracelet. They’d have a legitimate concern.

    I usually keep the GPS feature turned off to save battery but if the rescue services can legitimately use it if I got into trouble, I would leave it switched on.

    Good for you. I don’t have a GPS phone as I’ve got other things to waste money on, but I wouldn’t mind my location being known either. The problem word is “compulsory”. IMO, any MP should think for 10 seconds before they say the word “compulsory”, “mandatory”, or “banning”. They’re swear words when they come out of the mouths of politicians.

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  22. Viking2 (11,216 comments) says:

    How do you think that phones can tell you where yu are and how far it is to the nearest pub and how long it will take> eh
    This genie has been out of the box for ages.
    Its just a reverse action and like all this stuff will be abused by the authorities as and when they decide.
    Don’t carry a cellphone.
    Oh by the way the PD’s have been suing this stuff forever. tracking errant husbands and wives.
    good god haven’t you realised this.

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  23. ben (2,412 comments) says:

    This strikes me as a policy idea so bad as to be included only to take attention away from other less-bad policy. Let compulsory GPS take all the heat, drop it late in the process and make it look like a concession, and get a bunch of other marginal new regulation through without anyone noticing. This is how policy gets made, no?

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  24. ben (2,412 comments) says:

    Peterwn

    If a person who has called 111 dies or suffers permanent harm because he or she cannot be located, the ‘nearest and dearest’ will legitimately ask what can be done to resolve the problem in the future.

    This is a non-argument. The same could be said for compulsory helmets to be worn by all car occupants. Afterall, the family of anyone who dies of head injuries inside a car will legitimately ask what can be done to resolve the problem in the future. Ditto for every other over the top intervention that sacrifices the right to run one’s own life to safety, to the benefit of no one.

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  25. Pauleastbay (5,035 comments) says:

    This will improve the economy how?

    This will put more people in work how?

    seriously folks, if you are lost in the bush you will like JB says have a locator with you, if you wish, but I’d like to see the case study for this. Personally I haven’t read about dozens of my fellow citizens snuffing it because they couldn’t be located by their cell phone.

    Now, the likes of Trevor will not want to be located much of the time will he?, and as for the drunken dwarf any bar in Wellington will be able to locate him.

    Amy Adams would be a lot better advised to get off her arse, forget about this rubbish and sort out our areas broadband speed which has dropped from 2. 7 mbs on average to 0.55mbs because they kept on selling the product and have choked the entire area.

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  26. mara (744 comments) says:

    Somehow I managed to live over 50 years without a cell phone. I didn’t need one then and I’m buggered if I need one now. Sure, there was the time my car broke down, but I managed to get home all by myself!

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  27. kowtow (7,856 comments) says:

    Personally I favour the Mossad approach to mobile phones.
    Give them to your enemy and blow his head off.

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  28. Johnboy (15,382 comments) says:

    What pisses me off about mobiles is that I got a Motorola brick on the 025 network cause it worked best in the scrub compared to the dreadful 021 things and then Telecom canned the analogue system.

    I got an 027 CDMA thing cause they still worked better up in the scrub than the shitty 021 things.

    Now I have to get a bloody XT thing cause all of Telecoms technology/decision making is shit and Paul Reynolds still gets paid a fuckload of cash!

    Thank Christ we pay pay top dollar here in Godzone to get world class executives to run our businesses.

    Think how fucked we would be if we paid less and got Dodos instead! :)

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  29. Viking2 (11,216 comments) says:

    Ahh johnboy, we do that as well. Think Metruia and the rest of the dunder heads that assemble to make our laws and run our lives.

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  30. Johnboy (15,382 comments) says:

    Fuck the pollies V2.

    What about these pieces of crap like Rod Deane, Theresa Gattung and Paul Reynolds, that we pay top dollar for because they are so brilliant :) and when we get the Analogue/CDMA/XT fuck up none of the useless pieces of shit are prepared to front up.

    It’s bloody typical of the sort of shit that gets to be called top executives in sad little Godzone.

    I sometimes think the old Soviet system was the best. If you don’t achieve the five year plan as set by the leader you get the bullet in the ear.

    It’s just that I want to be the leader! :)

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  31. tempest (29 comments) says:

    Agree with DPF re the slippery slope. It’ll go from the Govt using it to locate you when you call 111 to using it to see whether you were /are speeding, taking corners above the advisory sign, acceleration, braking and the like. Child’s play to do once the system is enabled.

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  32. Johnboy (15,382 comments) says:

    While I’m picking on top exec’s don’t let me forget Fyfe. :)

    Hero of the year I believe!

    Not hard to be a big high flyer when you know you have a taxpayer funded safety net below you.

    How are those ANZ share prices doing? :)

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  33. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    These new cell phones aren’t much fun as my old scanner can’t listen in anymore, never mind that’s progress, there is still plenty to listen to. I doubt the government or authorities will ever have to make cell phones compulsory, Our kids love the bloody things and the wife isn’t much better and this goes for just about everyone of the younger generation as far as I’ve noticed.Why would you need to make something compulsory when the vast proportion of the population are hooked on them.

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  34. davidp (3,550 comments) says:

    The full 111 review documents are available here:

    http://www.med.govt.nz/sectors-industries/technology-communication/communications/emergency-call-services/111-review

    There is some interesting stuff in the document. For instance, NZ has 11 different call and operations centers managing 111 calls (2xTelecom, 3xFire, 3xAmbulance, and 3xPolice) staffed by upwards of 800 people. If nothing else comes out of the discussion, I’d imagine there was considerable scope for merging these, using common GIS and operations platforms, and cross training staff so they could handle any class of emergency call.

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  35. Viking2 (11,216 comments) says:

    That would be right. but how simple would it be to have and xtra number like 1 for police, 1112 for ambo’s and 1113 for fire and 1114 for the lot.I could learn that.
    It even has the potential to add others like say Coast Guard.
    Now I know that I am super intelligent and crims might forget the 1111 one but its not rocket science is it.
    So often when you need to ring you have to call 3 times because a police operator can’t buzz the fire guys. I men this is 2012 is it not.

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  36. David Garrett (6,647 comments) says:

    I am amazed someone else hasnt revealed that the police have this capacity already…when a 111 call is made by cellphone they know exactly where the phone is, right to the house in question.

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  37. bhudson (4,736 comments) says:

    David,

    While the police might have access to certain advanced features within the network [which look to be very useful], the basic location function has always been around and, in fact, promoted by Voda years ago as a marketing advantage.

    As long as you are within range of at least 2 cell sites Vodafone have always been able to triangulate your position fairly precisely using signal strength of your handset relative to each site. (IIRC, they can use the same principle to estimate your distance from a given site, but not the direction, if you are only within single site coverage.)

    Vodafone thought it had great marketing potential – things like promoting services and outlets – because “they knew where you were.”

    (I’m not sure if the same held true for the pre-XT network as their handsets weren’t constantly ‘checking in’ with the network as the GSM ones do.)

    Big Brother is already watching… He just doesn’t share without your permission [yet]

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