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Do cell phones qualify as tracking devices under US privacy laws?

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24.Mar, 2020 0 Data Privacy

As of 2019, there were more cell phones than people in the world. This data shows how indispensable phones have become in our day-to-day life.

Asides being used to exchange texts and calls, today’s cell phones perform an endless number of advanced communicative functions such as internet connectivity, sending and receipts of emails, online messaging, amongst other things.

Fundamentally, when people carry their cell phones around, the cell constantly sends out signals to nearby towers. It intermittently does this so that it can be ready to make and receive calls. This makes it easy for cell tower operators to know the number of cell phones connected thereon at each specific time.

By implication, cell phone location can be tracked by finding out the tower(s) such cell phone connected to within a specific period. Just as well, modern cell phones that come with GPS functionality, also ease the possibility of pinpointing the exact location that a device is –without even needing to check the towers it pings.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, it is clear that cell phones qualify as tracking devices under US privacy laws since they are used to track users. Where the issue however lies, is the fact that there is no extensive legal framework that regulates cell phone use as tracking devices.

This lacuna opens up an opportunity for increased incidents of abuse. For instance, the fact that no law addresses the question of whether court warrants are needed before law enforcement can obtain tracking data from network providers is really a cause for concerns.


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