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Google teams up with 911 to locate emergency callers more easily
Cell phones will be taking on a new role in , beginning a slow transition to becoming user tracking devices. The outcome of this shift reassures some, but has others calling for restrictions on how cell-locating information can be used. The impending first phase of the FCC's rules is aimed at enabling emergency services personnel to quickly get information on the location of a cell phone user in the event of a call. By April, all cellular and personal communications services providers will have to transmit to operators and other "public safety answering points" the telephone number and cell site location of any cell phone making a call.
The aim of the law is to bring to cell phone users the same automatic-locating capability that now exists with wireline phones. But while the FCC's aim is simple on the surface - to make it easier for medical, fire, and police teams to locate and respond to callers in distress - the technology is also giving rise to concerns over the ease with which the digital age and its wireless accouterments are bringing to tracking individuals.
The key question for us is 'what is the legal standard for government access?
Those seeking restrictions on the use of cell phone tracking information emphasize that, unlike the stationary wireline phones, a cell phone is more specifically associated with an individual and their minute-by-minute location. In December, the FCC began requiring wireless providers to automatically patch through any emergency calls made through their networks.
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Subscriber or not, bills paid or unpaid, anyone with a cell phone and a mobile identification number was thus guaranteed to see their calls completed. By April, emergency service personnel will receive more than just the call - they'll also get the originating cell phone's telephone number and, more significantly, the location of the cell site that handled the call.
The FCC's "Enhanced services" requirements that wireless providers make this information available is the beginning of a tracking system that by will be able to locate a phone within a meter radius. This information is made available to law enforcement, so tracing a landline call is really quick and easy. Someone not you is using a cellphone.
This means the cellphone is also doing 55mph, and taking the call connection with it. Within a minute or two, you have driven past 3 cell towers, and the call has been transferred to each one seamlessly.
- The Washington Post
No problem so far. Dialling is the best idea, but how will they know where you are? By the time they have your signal traced, you can be a mile up the road. When operators do need a location for a cellphone, they use mast triangulation. At any one time, your phone signal is bouncing off 3 network masts.
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Law enforcement software is able to establish a rough position based on the distance from each of the masts. This location is surprisingly accurate, and might be correct to within about feet. It is also usually available to the dispatcher in a few seconds. But is that enough? Otherwise, it might not be quite so helpful.
An apartment block might be 10 storeys or more high.