The Motorola DynaTAC, the first mobile telephone, ushered in a revolution in wireless communication in 1973. Today, mobile devices combined with technological advancements provide several benefits, including tracking minors and emergency-location service enhancements. The Global Positioning System (GPS), a "constellation" of 24 U.S. Department of Defense satellites, has enhanced mobile-tracking technology. However, with technological advancement comes the possibility of negative effects or misuse.
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Law Enforcement Advantages
Mobile technology enhances location services and reduces emergency-response time. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), United States emergency personnel estimate that 50 per cent of calls are placed using a mobile device. Through the integration of FCC-enforced Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and GPS, when you call for emergency services, the call is routed to the nearest cellphone tower regardless of mobile-service provider. Mobile tracking automatically communicates the phone number and location of the caller to a PSAP that manages the area.
Law Enforcement Disadvantages
A disadvantage of law-enforcement access to mobile-tracking technology is the sheer number of inquiries. Sprint Nextel, a wireless-service provider, provided law-enforcement agencies with GPS location information on its customers over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009, according to a Sprint Nextel manager at the ISS World conference in October 2009. The number of inquiries coupled with the time required to respond can prohibit law enforcement from acquiring valuable time-sensitive information during a criminal investigation.
Location Service Advantages
Mobile-tracking technology increases the chances of finding someone quickly. Most cell phones contain GPS technology, which can establish a person's whereabouts by calculating the location, speed and time of his cellphone signal. Children with cell phones that include GPS technology and location services can thus be located quickly. Concealed GPS devices can assist with locating runaway teens. They also provide a more reliable service due to their concealed nature. While a teenager aware of his cell phone's GPS device can turn the service off, with a concealed location device, the teen is unaware the device is present.
Location Service Disadvantages
Location services accurately track a signal to within several yards. The same technology that can save lives can also provide a framework for invasion of privacy. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, locational privacy "is the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use." Applications like Google Latitude--when downloaded to a cell phone--provide simple social location tools. However, Google's Latitude also records location history which opens the door for future requests. As a result, law-enforcement agencies can request information on the historical whereabouts of users which poses invasion-of-privacy concerns.
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- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Locational Privacy
- Homeland Security Newswire: U.S. "Pinged" Sprint GPS data 8 Million Times During a One-year Period
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Surveillance Shocker
- CNN: Google Latitude Keeps Tabs on Friends' Locations
- GlobalPositioningSystem.gov: The Global Positioning System