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Cell Phones to Have Location-Tracking by 2005

AP Verizon Wireless customer displays her cellular phone. Tuesday, April 24, 2001

By 2005, the government will be able to track you down through your cell phone.

Cell-phone manufacturers are under a federal mandate to equip mobiles with location-tracking technology beginning this October. By 2005, 95 percent of all cell phones must be able to be traced with an accuracy of about 1,000 feet or better.

While such phones could be lifesavers in an emergency, the order from the Federal Communications Commission has raised serious questions about invasion of privacy.

"For most people, itís a very scary proposition that the government can use not only your mobile phone but your Palm Pilots ... and any other mobile device to track your every movement," said attorney Albert Gidari, of the Perkins and Coie law firm in Seattle.

Making mobile phones capable of tracking users' locations will involve planting GPS chips in the handsets or installing new infrastructure in cell sites.

Cellular providers plan commercial uses for the technology, such as getting directions if someone is lost, finding nearby restaurants or locating family members and friends who have gotten separated in a crowd.

"Wireless operators already know where consumers are by virtue of the fact that the phone is on," pointed out Ken Arneson, the chief strategy officer at Telecommunication Systems, a provider of the location-tracking technology. "Whatís different here is that now carriers are looking to commercialize that and need to do that to offset the cost of putting this technology in place."

He estimated that it could cost billions of dollars to outfit the 110 million cell phones in this country with the tracking mechanism.

Some worry the technology will be used in other ways, with providers selling information to merchants or worse: stalkers or abusive relatives.

"If the fundamental principles of privacy arenít in place, there will be a revolt against the widespread use of the technology," Gidari said.

Arneson said the privacy issue is being taken seriously and is one of the chief considerations in going forward with installing the technology.

"We as a company believe that there will be privacy solutions in place ... that essentially allow consumers to opt in and opt out of these various services," Arneson said. "Privacy is an enormous concern.",2933,14815,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, April 24, 2001

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