The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can track down the location of all US citizens at any time if they happen to carry a cell phone, a federal appeals court has been told.
Since cell phones have morphed from cordless communication devices into pocket-sized PCs, cellular providers have developed and honed the ability to pinpoint your location fairly accurately -- potentially to within 150 feet.
That feature also enables the authorities to know your location at all times when you're carrying your phone.
"Most people don't understand they are carrying a tracking device in their pockets," Fox News quoted Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as saying.
The revelation came during the hearing of a case that centers around Philadelphia FBI agent William Shute, who testified that he obtained records 150 times in recent years to track the location of federal fugitives.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court that the practice raises serious privacy issues.
Location information is generated when a cell phone user places a call.
Most carriers store that data for a period of time, but they don't store the information for long, and they also don't track your location when you're not making calls. But they easily could, says PCMag.com cell phone analyst Sascha Segan.
"At any moment, if your cell phone is on, your provider can tell where you are. Right now, they don't store that bit of information. But if the government makes that a legal requirement, they might have to," he said.