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Big Borther in Europe. Could we be next?

by caktus / April 14, 2009 1:42 AM PDT

The Register

The mobile phone as self-inflicted surveillance. And if you don't have one, what have you got to hide?

By David Mery

Like the breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel, mobile phones leave a trail wherever they go. Practically everybody can be tracked via this trail, and the beauty of it all is, we're effectively tracking ourselves.

By design, phones pass their location on to local base stations. You can gauge how effectively the networks can track you by requesting your personal information from your network provider using a data subject access under the Data Protection Act, or by just running Google Mobile Maps on your phone. The smaller 3G cells in central London give an even better location than on GSM.

Mobile phone penetration in Europe reached an average of 111.26 per cent in 2007 according to ITU estimates, while in the UK it was 118.47 per cent. We love them so much that we are more likely to leave our wallet at home than our mobile.

The location breadcrumbs from these, along with other communication traffic data, are kept as part of a mass surveillance operation affecting everyone. They are collected by the networks, retained for a year, and handed over to the police and other bodies on request.

Professor Steve Peers, of the University of Essex and Statewatch, points out that although the system is incredibly sweeping, it doesn't stigmatise anyone because every phone call is going to be subject to this.

It's no longer just the individuals who are suspect of, or connected to, or convicted of a crime who are subject to some sort of additional surveillance beyond which they would traditionally have been subjected to. As regards to data retention, as regards to fingerprints, as regards to passenger records, it's everyone or a very large percentage of the population subject to the hoovering of that information.

This is cogent analysis. Mobile phones and email are used by everyone, including terrorists and other criminals. The data can be instrumental in tracking down criminals, with the caveat that having a bigger haystack does not make it easier to find a needle. But it misses one perverse effect - those who will be stigmatised in the future are those who don't have traffic data retained.

Lack of traffic data is what becomes suspicious. There are already two documented cases in Europe where not carrying a mobile phone was considered one of the grounds for arrest.

On 31st July 2007, in Brandenburg and Berlin, Germany, the flats and workplaces of Dr. Andrej Holm and Dr. Matthias B., as well as of two other persons, were searched by the police. All four were charged with "membership of a terrorist association" and are alleged to be members of a so-called 'militante gruppe' (mg):

According to the arrest warrant against Andrej Holm, the charge against the four individuals was justified on the following grounds:

? Dr. Matthias B. is alleged to have used, in his academic publications, "phrases and key words" which are also used by the 'militante gruppe';

[...]

? The fact that he - allegedly intentionally - did not take his mobile phone with him to a meeting is considered as "conspiratorial behavior".

On 11th November 2008, 150 French anti-terrorist police officers swooped on the 330-inhabitant village of Tarnac to arrest four men and five women aged 22 to 34, since nicknamed the 'Tarnac Nine'. These 'brilliant students' were living in a farm and ran a grocery store. All but one have been released. They were accused of "criminal association connected to a terrorist enterprise". French Interior Minister Mich

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I'm doomed then.
by MarkFlax Forum moderator / April 14, 2009 6:22 AM PDT

I don't have a mobile, Sad

Mark

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RE: I don't have a mobile, :(
by caktus / April 14, 2009 7:10 AM PDT
In reply to: I'm doomed then.

Shame on you. Devil

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I have mine mainly for emergency use
by James Denison / April 14, 2009 11:41 AM PDT
In reply to: I'm doomed then.

Never can tell when you might break down on the road and need a tow. Mine always stays in my van. If it wasn't for possible emergency use, and when I need to go out of town, I'd not bother with one.

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reply to: I have mine mainly for emergency use
by caktus / April 15, 2009 9:41 AM PDT

Same here. But of late' it seems to have gone the way of the remote, where ever it is.

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Not news to anybody who watches NCIS
by Ziks511 / April 14, 2009 9:06 AM PDT

tracking of cell phones occurs in practically every episode.

All technology offers new ways to collect data on those who use it.

Rob

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Then I'm guilty
by James Denison / April 14, 2009 11:39 AM PDT

I have a cheapie $20 phone I pay minutes for and only turn on for longer roadtrips, or to call home, then it gets turned completely off again. Consequently I go about a month between battery recharges. In this past month I used it a total of once, so maybe make 2 months before needing recharge this time. I end up buying more service time than minutes. My total cost per year is about $100 for minutes and service time.

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You're safe James. It's usually the more expensive cell
by Ziks511 / April 15, 2009 12:20 PM PDT
In reply to: Then I'm guilty

phones that may have GPS chips, but any cell phone can be triangulated through which cell towers are receiving the signal while turned on, though not necessarily in use. At least that's my understanding. Don't hesitate to correct me.

Rob

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I don't feel this is Big Brotherism, but most cities in
by Ziks511 / April 15, 2009 12:29 PM PDT

Europe including Britain have extensive video coverage of the streets. This footage is used to aid apprehension of criminals, help response times by the police to fights and the like.

Rob

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