cellular networks and tracking

This article points to the problem of stability in cellular networks, when various institutions begin to rely on them beyond the simple mechanisms of cellular communication. In this case, the article points out that the British Prison service utilizes the O2 network in the UK in order to monitor those criminals on parole who have electronic-tagged ankle bracelets. The statistics are not particularly worrying – at least to me, in Australia – 200 monitored criminals had intermittent coverage over the O2 network outage, out of 13.5k monitored individuals. That’s a little less than 2 percent. I imagine that there will be other issues at play that mean that a network of such a size probably has errors roughly in that range on a daily basis.

What is interesting to me are the following reminders: a) state institutions utilizing private cellular networks for juridical purposes, and b) the technology used for tracking parolees is exactly the same as the standard used by most cellphones: the SIM card. Which is to say, it’s very very easy to track an individual utilizing a SIM card technology, if you’re a state or corporate power, or have control of the network via other means. That isn’t to say that it’s a general current condition, or that we live in a police state, but it’s perhaps a suggestion to think about the device in your pocket as being dangerous beyond its simple cancer risk. To quote something Christopher Soghoian said on Twitter some time ago, “Remember, a cellphone is a tracking device that can also make calls.”

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