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Olympics bosses probe mobile tracking tech

'Geo fences' could protect east London

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Security officials preparing counter-terror measures for the 2012 Olympics are considering deploying technology that can continuously pinpoint the location of mobile phones.

Civil servants have held meetings with TruePosition, a US mobile location firm trying to break into the UK telecoms market.

Its technology can be used to erect virtual "geo fences", which will alert security staff when an unauthorised mobile phone enters a protected site and track it, typically with an accuracy of 30 to 50 metres.

Such a set up does not require cooperation from mobile network operators, as witnessed in systems offered by Path Technologies, a UK company offering similar technology to allow retailers to track customers.

At present in the UK, mobile operators are able to locate mobile phones for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but collect data routinely only when they are used.

In the US, meanwhile, TruePosition has installed technology in tens of thousands of base stations nationwide. This allows constant monitoring of location, and can give an indication of direction and speed. AT&T and T-Mobile deployed the system earlier in the decade to comply with FCC regulations demanding accurate location data for 911 operators.

Each hardware unit records how long signals from a mobile device take to reach them. Data from several is then combined by a central server to determine location. TruePosition says its approach beats GPS tracking because it does not require a high-end handset and functions well indoors.

Of course, TruePosition's US location network is also accessed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Indeed, in less privacy-sensitive societies, such as Singapore, the company sells direct to governments who maintain tracking databases themselves.

Brian Bolon, the firm's product director, said: "Mass tracking may not be allowed everywhere, but it is an option."

Ben Fletcher, head of policy and communications within the Home Office's Olympic Security Directorate, told The Register that officials were looking at a wide range of technologies and companies to secure Olympic sites.

Fletcher said the government does not plan to use untested technologies during the Olympics and was talking to more than 200 different providers. The total security budget is £600m, mostly for staffing costs, with a further £238m for contingencies.

The Directorate is working with authorities in previous host cities to identify successful strategies. Fletcher said officials had a good relationships with counterparts in Athens and Sydney. He pointedly added they had "a relationship" with Beijing.

TruePosition has also held talks with UK mobile networks, so far without any sales. ®

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