The major US telephone carriers are giving away the location of the users in real-time by taking advantage of a loophole in the Electron Communications Privacy Act. A former sheriff named Cory Hutcheson used a service called “Securus” to get the location of a judge and the members of Missouri’s Highway Patrols which can also be used to pinpoint the location of a mobile in a matter of seconds. The Securus obtains the location information using a service called LocationSmart which obtains the data from the carriers and sells it to the companies like Securus. While LocationSmart tracks phones based on the information it gets from the towers which tend to take longer than GPS but it works in the background without consuming the battery.
The story blew up because a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant, according to The New York Times. The sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful surveillance.
The company is sharing the real-time location of the users using this method and it’s completely legal. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act prevents the carriers from sharing the user’s location to US government but there are no restrictions for the companies like LocationSmart since they are not the carriers which show a big flaw in the privacy act.
As noted by Kevin Bankston, the Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, this is “one of the biggest gaps in US privacy law.” But LocationSmart is currently promising its customers that companies use its services must get explicit consent from the users before actually obtaining their location whether using an App or text message. There are instances where the user’s location is required in the case of the medical emergency support. The FCC’s been asked to investigate the matter by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, but it remains to be seen what actions (if any) will be taken.
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