While our generation grew up knowing that “Big Brother” was watching us, none of us believed that the day would come when the government would know where anyone was at any given moment. But apparently the future is here because for a modest fee, anyone can find where you are—at any given time– if they have your cell number. There is a new “Ping service” which uses your cell phone’s GPS functions “Assisted Global Position System” to ping your cell phone and report your position to the paid subscriber.
The problem herein is that we do not have any constitutional protections from such intrusions on our privacy. If regular ol’ Joe Schmo can pay a service fee to find where we are at any given time, with only our phone number—Uncle Sam can do it too! Unofficially, law enforcement agencies will admit that they use such services and softwares regularly to locate missing people, suspects, and for surveillance during lengthy investigations.
Placing a GPS device, as described in our previous blog post, under a suspects car has been found by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to be unconstitutional on the grounds of it being a warrantless search—this, however, is using someone’s own personal property as a GPS monitoring device. Thus, the government didn’t tamper with anyone’s personal property; they only used a suspect’s cell phone signal to triangulate their position anywhere in the country to within 25 feet of accuracy.
In addition to this new “ping” service there has been software written which can be purchased legally which does not require the user to physically have the target phone to install. Now, this is not to say it can be installed in the other person’s phone legally. Unofficially law enforcement will admit that they use such software regularly. Are they getting search warrants, if in fact the government is using this software? As a criminal Defense attorney I have not seen this wording being admitted in search warrants. Are the police using this software and just not saying anything?