You can run, but you can't hide.
That might well be the motto of the modern age. Because these days it's easy to find out exactly where someone is at any given moment. If you use a cell phone, for example, there are ways for the cell phone company to know your general location. And global positioning systems (GPSs) can pinpoint your precise location with uncanny accuracy.
The GPS system is an especially revolutionary development. Originally developed by the military, GPS systems are now in widespread use. You can find them in cars for helping with directions and knowing exactly where you are and in handheld devices, which are increasingly used even by campers and hikers who don't want to become lost.
GPS systems use middle earth orbit (MEO) satellites, which orbit at an altitude of 5,00015,000 kilometers above the earth. As you'll see in the illustration later in this chapter, GPS systems can pinpoint your location on Earth so you can know your current longitude and latitude. When combined with computer technology and a database of maps, they can provide navigation instructions. They also can be used to track your movements.
Cell phones will increasingly include built-in GPSs. These systems will be used for emergency purposescall 911, and the GPS system on your phone will kick in, telling police or medical personnel your precise location.
But even cell phones that don't have a GPS can be used to track your location, as you'll see in an illustration later in this chapter.
There are many privacy issues related to location tracking. For example, in December 2005, federal judge Gabriel Gorenstein, in the Southern District of New York ruled in that the federal government could legally monitor anyone's location via his cell phone without having to obtain a warrant. More frightening still, the judge said that the government didn't even have to show probable cause, meaning any evidence of criminal behavior. All the government has to do, the judge ruled, is claim that information obtained by tracking someone might be somehow "relevant" to a criminal investigation.
It's not only the government that snoops on your location. The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper found in January 2006 that private companies were selling information about the locations of private individual cell phone calls over the Internet. They were selling the information to anyone willing to pay and weren't informing the people whose information was being sold. So, for example, if a woman was living in a shelter for battered women and her abusive husband wanted to find out where she was, all he had to do was fork over the money.
Although location tracking is no doubt a great convenience, it also represents one of the most significant potential invasions of privacy today.