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The Humane Society of the United States

"U.S. senator demands suspension of phone-tracking system"

November 28, 2011 By Ted Samson | InfoWorld

A Comment in response to...
"I admit this is bit big brother, but as a licensed amateur radio operator, many forget the airwaves are essentially public domain.  If you transmit using the air, those signals are not owned by anyone. Maybe this needs to change, but as for now this is a century old standard." -- Benjamin Adams
Excellent point!

Until your comment, I was entirely in the privacy camp along with most people. I now have to take pause.

Back in my emergency service days, I too was an amateur radio operator. As you know, the law requires all licensees like amateur radio operators, radio stations, police, fire, etc to regularly broadcast their "call-sign" (unique identifier) so they can always be located. That's often automated these days. The general public is largely unaware of this however and their idea of two-way radio is usually CB radio or FRS. CB radio used to be licensed and had to identify, but licensing was dropped in the 1980's because the laws were so widely ignored. FRS is unlicensed.

For the benefit of other readers...

Cellphones and Wi-Fi are very sophisticated two-way radio systems hidden under telephone and computer user interfaces respectively.

Mr. Adams, you are absolutely right that the airwaves are, by law, effectively a public domain shared and limited resource. The FCC was created to manage that resource in a way that prevents its users from interfering with other users.

In actuality, all electric devices transmit radio waves. Every wire is an antenna. A great deal of device design is dedicated to blocking those radio waves from leaving the device and interfering with other devices.

Also, the airwaves may appear limitless, but in reality, receiving devices like cell-phone towers can only handle a limited number of signals at a time. Too many signals hitting one tower is a lot like a network Distributed Denial of Service DDOS attack.

So how does this impact cellphone tracking and privacy?

As much as I hate to admit it, tracking is probably on sound legal grounds here. The FCC only really regulates transmitters, not receivers. So businesses intercepting cellphone signals is probably perfectly legal.

The question is -- should it be?

Our century of airwaves regulation and case-law has always controlled the activities of a very limited number of people. When CB radio use became widespread though, that regulatory system had to throw up its hands in defeat. With cellphone use approaching universal, identification requirements that allow tracking becomes a major invasion of privacy issue.

Not every problem can be solved by technology. This is one of those that is going to require laws and regulations to prevent widespread victimization of the public by ruthless businesses and government.

Don't hold your breath!

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