Examples of surveillance and tracking via cellphone are emerging at a rapid pace lately. Business Week reports on several cell-phone tracking services available in Korea. According to the article, more than four million Koreans have signed up for services that can determine and track a cellular subscriber’s location. Some of the applications are quite interesting from a social networking and parental control perspective:
One [service], costing $3 per month, will send a message with your coordinates to friends and family periodically while you’re traveling. Another will automatically dispatch a text message to friends who get within a block or so of each other as they move around town. Yet another, costing 29 cents a day, will send a message if a person isn’t at a specified place at a certain time and then allows the tracker to see the person’s movements over the previous five hours. And 20,000 parents pay $10 per month for alerts if their children stray from the route between school and home.
Korean officials have also attempted to address the privacy concerns inherent with cellphone tracking:
the 1984 feel of some of these services has prompted Seoul to step in to ensure customers’ privacy. In December, the National Assembly approved a law that requires a government license for all companies gathering such location information. Companies with licenses can only share that information with people designated by those being tracked, and those individuals are ensured access to detailed records of all requests for tracking. They can also opt out of the service any time or decide to slip away temporarily by selecting a “hide” option on their phones.
The New York Times reports on plans of using cellphones to measure traffic flows:
Several state transportation agencies, including those in Maryland and Virginia, are starting to test technology that allows them to monitor traffic by tracking cellphone signals and mapping them against road grids.
The technology underlines how readily cellphones can become tracking devices for private companies, law enforcement and government agencies – a development that deeply troubles privacy advocates.
These new traffic systems can monitor several hundred thousand cellphones at once. The phones need only be turned on, not necessarily be in use.
The privacy concerns are obvious:
…privacy advocates say that traffic monitoring could be the beginning of government use of cellphones to track someone’s movements. Even if the tracking is done anonymously and in clusters, they say, it could allow federal and state officials to track where people are headed en masse – to know, for instance, where protesters are gathering.
“This enables the government to have a much easier time of knowing what private people are up to without any sort of process or consent,” said Lee Tien, senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.