Phones can be tracked without warrants thanks to carrier feature

As smartphones become more and more a common part of everyday life, so too do their potential to be used for harm. While we mostly rely on laws to protect us both criminals and less conscientious companies, sometimes the laws aren't exactly clear or up to modern standards and have just enough grey areas for some enterprising people to take advantage of. Case in point is the ability of some companies and individuals to track cellphone locations even without warrants, all thanks to a feature almost all carriers provide to aid marketing and advertising.

Such an example involved a former Mississippi County sheriff who used the service provided by a company called Securus to keep track of cellphone. The company provides these services for government and law enforcement but it didn't take a genius like the former sheriff to use that service to track not just prisoners but also a judge and members of the state's highway patrol. All without a warrant and all using what's technically available to carriers and, by extension, to some "partners" and customers.

Due to the technical nature of cellular signals and devices, carriers will always know your location. They are also able to provide this location, with customers' consent, to partners in order to provide location-based marketing, offers, etc. Carriers are legally required to protect customers' data but the requirement isn't as strong between carriers and other companies.

In Securus particular case, it provides that data to is own customers primarily for law enforcement and investigation. The problem is that the company does very little to check how their products are used. The FTC is now looking into the matter after Senator Ron Wyden wrote a letter regarding the matter. That said, even lawyers are split on whether that kind of location tracking is even covered by current privacy laws, hinting that an update is long overdue.

SOURCE: New York Times