October 23, 2006

Tracking Threats - how whistleblowers can avoid tracking by cell/mobile

Someone's paying attention to the tracking ability of mobile phones. Darrent points to Spyblog who suggests some tips to whistleblowers (those who sacrifice their careers and sometimes their liberty to reveal crimes in government and other places):

8. Do not use your normal mobile phone to contact a journalist or blogger from your Home Office location, or from home. The Cell ID of your mobile phone will pinpoint your location in Marsham Street and the time and date of your call. This works identically for Short Message Service text messages as well as for Voice calls.

Such Communications Traffic Data does not require that a warrant be signed by the Home Secretary, a much more junior official has the power to do this, e.g. the Home Office Departmental Security Unit headed by Jacqueline Sharland.

9. Buy a cheap pre-paid mobile phone from a supermarket etc..

  • Do not buy the phone or top up phone credit using a Credit Card or a make use of a Supermarket Loyalty Card.
  • Do not switch on or activate the new mobile at home or at work, or when your normal mobile phone switched on (the first activation of a mobile phone has its physical location logged, and it is easy to see what other phones are active in the surrounding Cells at the same time.
  • Do not Register your pre-paid mobile phone, despite the tempting offers of "free" phone credit.
  • Do not store any friends or familiy or other business phone numbers on this disposable phone - only press or broadcast media or blogger contacts.
  • Set a power on PIN and a Security PIN code on the phone.
  • Physically destroy the phone and the SIM card once you have done your whistleblowing. Remember that your DNA and fingerprints will be on this mobile phone handset.
  • Do not be tempted to re-use the SIM in another phone or to put a fresh SIM in the old phone, unless you are confident about your ability to illegally re-program the International Mobile Equipment Electronic Identity (IMEI).

Just in case you think this is excessive paranoia, it recently emerged that journalists in the USA and in Germany were having their phones monitored, by their national intelligence agencies, precisely to try to track down their "anonymous sources".

Why would this not happen here in the UK ?

See Computer Encryption and Mobile Phone evidence and the alleged justification for 90 days Detention Without Charge - Home Affairs Select Committee Oral Evidence 14th February 2006


25. If you decide to meet with an alleged "journalist" or blogger (who may not always be who they claim to be), or if a journalist or blogger decides to meet with an "anonymous source" (who also might not be who they claim to be), then you should switch off your mobile phones, since the proximity of two mobile phones in the same approximate area, at the same time, is something which can be data mined from the Call Data Records, even if no phone conversations have taken place. Typically a mobile phone will handshake with the strongest Cell Base Station transmitter every 6 to 10 minutes, and this all gets logged, all of the time.

Read the whole thing if it is important to you. Personally, I'd say that's a difficult list. If you are suspect, don't use a cellphone. Not that I have a better idea (although I think Spyblog's comments on Skype are perhaps a little weak.)

Posted by iang at October 23, 2006 08:30 AM | TrackBack

What about single band/dual/tri and Quad, surely a phone needs three points of location to work out the phones exact position, so using a single band will result in a location to within 1-3 miles and a DUAL will result in something like 1 mile,

would that be an accurate Statement?

I often see crimes and would like to report but I read of so many people being frustrated with the police not doing anything or getting the criminal accusing the reporter you feel why bother. I think this is why people will not report things, they are living in a surveylance society and the repercussions of THEM breathing down your neck for being honest isn't worth the effort.

Posted by: Phil at May 1, 2008 09:22 PM

On tracking: there is a distinction between triangulation and tower records. The way the phone system works is that your phone talks to the nearest cell, which in a dense city is likely to place you within a square kilometer. Each cell tower will keep a record of who it is talking to, and negotiate with nearby cells for handover.

Triangulation is only possible with access to the actual towers in real time, as currently, it is not logged. (Ok, so that's what they tell us, but they haven't proven to be so reliable in their claims.) You need at least 2 towers, and preferably 3. This will take it down to under 100m X 100m, perhaps even better (I'd reckon that the difficult topography of all those buildings will make it hard to be very precise). If one was a real terrorist, rather than a net grumbler or an art thief, then this would be a serious concern.

Tri-band phones just use other country systems, I thought, so it has little to do with the question.

Posted by: Iang at May 2, 2008 07:42 AM
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