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November 21, 2005

Cell Phone Tracking Monitors Car Traffic

The Baltimore Sun is reporting on a new traffic monitoring program that is raising the hackles of privacy advocates.  In essence, Maryland has hired Delcan NET, a Canadian company, to  check the flow of traffic by monitoring cell phones as they move from on cell tower to another.  This only works, of course, if the phone is on, but there appear to be more than enough working phones traveling on the state's expressways to make the project feasible. 

Cell phones constantly communicate with cell towers and can be tracked when one tower hands a phone off to another tower.  Delcan NET monitors the aggregate data as these hand offs occur, noting the times between hand offs and then calculating the speed of cars.  Choke points can be identified and relayed to drivers via roadside signs or radio traffic reports.  The company notes that it does not monitor individual phones or conversations.

Privacy experts fear that this is the beginning of another slippery slope to erode individual privacy rights.  The government has lost various attempts to retrieve cell phone tracking information when presented to a federal judge.  Getting a private company to turn over information may not pose the same impediment.

The cooperating carrier has not been officially identified, but reports indicate that it is Cingular.

Read more in the Sun here.

November 21, 2005 | Permalink

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