Your cell phone's ability to keep tabs on you is raising privacy concerns.
Almost everyone now carries a cell phone to keep in touch. But the devices can also pinpoint where you are. If you dial 911, emergency workers can find you -- even if you can’t tell them where you are -- based on which cell phone towers your phone uses.
Some people said they were surprised to learn that the FBI and other agencies can get that information from cell phone companies.
“It’s very invasive,” Chris Taylor said. “It’s almost like people on house arrest, where they can track all their movements.”
Right now, the federal government is fighting in court to retain its ability to get that information without a search warrant.
“A warrant requires probable cause, and they’re saying that’s too much trouble for them,” said civil liberties attorney Michael Linz about the government case.
Currently, it is relatively easy for the government to get tracking information.
“They just need to show a judge that they have a reason to want it in connection with a criminal matter,” Linz said.
“I do not think it’s a good thing at all,” said customer Brandon Vance. “The government already knows too much about our actions and what we do.”
Even if you don’t want the government to track your whereabouts, cell phone tracking could be useful to people for other reasons.
Many smart phones now include GPS features that can tell you where you are at any time. Parents can track their children with mapping features offered by phone companies.
“A parent has certain rights to be able to keep tabs on their kids,” Taylor said.
Her 15-year-old daughter agreed that mom might like that feature.
“Yes, she should know where I am,” Charlotte Taylor said.
Web site www.accutracking.com offers software that can track employees or even a spouse. It can even be installed on a phone without that person’s knowledge.
“That’s tricky, because they’re an adult, and they should at least have an option or way to opt out of it,” Vance said.
Civil liberties attorney Michael Linz said new technology presents new legal questions.
“As fast as technology advances and helps us all, it also gives opportunity to others to abuse the process for bad motives," he said.
Torlak works in a UTD lab devoted to advancing capabilities to speeds so fast that newer cell phones may soon perform all the tasks of home computers.
“I would carry the same concern that I have on my desk top to my new device,” Torlak said.
Experts recommend keeping your phone as secure as you keep your computer, watching carefully for unwanted software applications and threatening files.