This has been bubbling among tech types and civil liberty advocates for a few days, but once we looked into it decided it was worth a bit more attention.
The big revelation is that one wireless telecom company in a single year processed 8 million law enforcement requests for GPS data on the company’s wireless users. And that’s just one company.
For non-techies, law enforcement isn’t tapping into the GPS interface you might use to get directions from the airport. Rather, it’s the GPS capability that all phones manufactured today are required by federal regulations to have so that if you dial 911 from the phone, first responders can find you.
It’s a fascinating (and, yes, alarming) story. Justin Elliott has talked to the company, Sprint, and fills out the picture of how your cell phone can be used to track your whereabouts, with what appears to be minimal, if any, judicial oversight.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.