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Using phone-tracking tech? 'Fess up now, urges expert

Shopping centres, stadiums among orgs sniffing YOUR whereabouts

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Dealing with cops requesting punters' whereabouts

Path Intelligence altered the way it stores the data it collects after a suggestion by privacy groups, Biggar said.

"Mobile networks must know where each phone is and who that phone belongs to. They can associate the number that they broadcast with an individual. Privacy groups were concerned that the police may request our data and then match it back with the mobile network information. The groups suggested changing the identification of the dots we collect when we store the information on our database. They were concerned that police or other law enforcement bodies would contact us to obtain the raw information and link it to other identifiable data," she said.

"Any signal from the phone or the network will be picked up on multiple receivers of ours and then we triangulate between our own devices. As soon as our system detects the number it changes it. We cannot tell you what the original number is. It is not important to us," Biggar said.

Biggar also said that the data collected is aggregated and that movement of device data is not individually monitored. She said the technology had been used to inform stadium operators about the movement of music fans in entering and exiting concerts and helped quantify the number of refugees in refugee camps in order to deliver adequate provisions of medical supplies.

Biggar rejected claims that the FootPath system breaches the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Under RIPA the interception of communications is unlawful other than in select circumstances. Biggar said that the signals the company detect are broadcast 'in the clear' prior to the point they are encrypted and are therefore not intercepted.

"The signal we detect is broadcast by the phones and network as opposed to intercepted. The signal can be picked up on multiple devices. For example, your landline phone detects the signal and makes beeps when a phone is next to it," Biggar said.

RIPA permits law enforcement agencies, such as the police and MI5, to tap into phone, internet or email use to protect the UK's national security interests, prevent and detect terrorism and serious crime or to safeguard the UK's economic well-being, subject to approval by the Home Secretary.

Telecoms firms are also allowed to unintentionally intercept communications in line with RIPA if the interception "takes place for purposes connected with the provision or operation of that service or with the enforcement, in relation to that service, of any enactment relating to the use of postal services or telecommunications services".

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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