Law enforcement locating your position via mobile phone

I was reading yesterday about bodies being found BBC News - Sian O'Callaghan: Police continue search for second body and couldnt help wondering:
Can the police require the mobile phone companies to give them a list of where you have been recently, based on your mobile phone movements?

Would this be based on triangulation, as in requiring "seeing the phone" from two phone masts, and probably less reliable, or can they get a GPS printout of your movements.

From a non expert perspective, it would seem many crimes could be solved by simply checking the phone signals at relevant locations ? such as the one above

Does anyone know, is it fairly common place, but just not advertised so much?
I remember a story in the paper a year or two ago where someone caught speeding several times along a stretch of motorway was vindicated by his mobile phone bill - Can't remember in any great detail though. It could bring up a couple of top tips though - if you want an alibi, carry your phone everywhere. If you plan on raping anyone in the near future, leave your phone on the GNER.
When you get TomTom traffic information it's based on the speed of Vodafone handsets moving through a particular cell's coverage. So yeah, the system knows roughly where each phone is. The murderer Ian Huntley had his position fixed by his phone and this was taken as evidence. Seemingly individual vehicles can be tracked by their effect on the local cell network; bit like Russian subs being tracked by MAD.
It can give a rough position, and we're talking 'within X-km north of such-and-such a mast'! Utilised this a few times when dealing with high-risk missing from homes (after requesting all the various authorisations through the chain of command) and it gives a rough idea of where to start looking. I am certain the technology exists to pin point a phone but we would be talking information commissioner/HO approval and would be high priority/high level cases. It is not a regular occurrence for it to be used within a police incident.
They can track your movements, and it takes place regularly enough for most large constabularies to have a member of staff who deals with the requests.
Yeah but we are not talking to within 1-3 metres here! And the force will have a SPOC (single point of contact) who sits in an office within information compliance or covert standards and is purely responsible for processing the application for mobile info. In a dynamic incident the duty Insp has to request authority which is then bumped up through the control room by their Insp to Supt and subsequently ACC/DCC level (IIRC).
Cell ID triangulation has always been a feature of mobile phones.dependent upon cell size,it's possible to narrow an area to a few hundred metres,in cities,where cell sites are more dense.The cell site itself is equipped with GPS,mainly for timing matters,as the site position is known.In rural areas,cell sites are much further apart,and therefor the cell ID info,will provide a much larger area for phone positioning(several square kilometres)
Some good answers here, by either method, triangualtion or GPS CHIP it would be possible.
It does seem strange this technology is not more mainstream, it appears it has loads of practical uses, tho is infringement of civil liberties likely to be the reason its kept for big emergencies?
Yes the police can request the information and by law the phone companies have to give it to them. As for the rest, case of simple location details (though not down to the square metre) but that suspect A was in this location at the time blah blah blah.
Oh and it is common when a person is being investigated, in most cases where location has to be proved. Though if no clear suspect, then the police might ask for a record of mobiles in that location at the time they are looking at (which may be good if rural, but a nightmare if somewhere like London and completely pointless).
Back when I worked for Orange, we had a (small) department whose sole task it was to liase with the cops about just such enquiries.

Something strange happened back in 2007.
TV Cop shows, starting with a US series called "Life" suddenly revealed that your phone reveals where you are even when you're not making calls. (Previously, cop shows had been pretty much unanimous in saying the exact opposite) Oddly enough, a few weeks (two, maybe three weeks?) later, the UK's "The Bill" similarly changed its story, after many years of "We can't track the phone, because they aren't making calls". Those of us who'd worked in the telecomms industry found this to be strange. WE knew that your phone "talks" to the network all-by-itself (If the network doesn't know where you are, how the hell are they going to route calls to your phone?!) The more you move around the country, the more frequently your phone contacts the network... and, as a result, the quicker your battery runs flat. Many phones don't seem to be fitted with a genuine "Off" switch... just a "standby mode" switch that pretends to be a "power" button. A mobile handset placed near a cheap transistor radio will, from time to time, emit a quite distinctive brief signal that will be audibly picked up by the radio. (You've probably heard it do so!) That's the phone telling the network "If anyone calls, I'm HERE!"

Orange used to use some creaky software called "Isaac", that kept a record on every call made from the SIM that's registered to your account, which mast was used... AND the IMEI of the phone used to make the call. Sadly I didn't have access to the software that tracked back locations. Bottom line, if you don't want to be tracked... either take the battery out or buy the equivalent of a Faraday cage (a small pouch that's impervious to radio signals. They cost about a tenner) If you've got an iPhone... you can't take the battery out, so it'll have to be the Faraday cage solution!


Gallery Guru
The NHS gave me a personal alarm that contains a SIM card it's connected to a call centre. Push the alarm and it connects to the call centre and tracks my position. the staff listening in to what's happening decide whether to call the Police or whoever.
It's not just phones which do this but some of the higher end top spec cars (Merc's, jag's BMW's) also emit a signal which can be tracked by various means. Some of these use this to send out an automated location and alarm signal if the vehicle believes it has been involved in a collision. This technology is being looked at to help monitor traffic flows.
It's not just phones which do this but some of the higher end top spec cars (Merc's, jag's BMW's) also emit a signal which can be tracked by various means. Some of these use this to send out an automated location and alarm signal if the vehicle believes it has been involved in a collision. This technology is being looked at to help monitor traffic flows.
Here in the former colony across the pond General Motors has installed a system in all new GM cars for several years. GM calls it ONSTAR. IIRC it uses GPS and cell and has a pretty small location radius. If you have an accident that triggers airbags a signal is sent and an operator calls with a query as to injuries. If the driver says it is needed or thee is no response the operator calls the primary 911(i.e. 999) centre in a state with a precise location. Also, if the car is disabled for some reason you can press a button, talk to the operator and help is sent. BTW, if there are injuries in a crash or if the driver pushes the button as someone is poorly the operator stays on the line talking with them until the police/fire/ems arrive.

i like the idea and would make sure my next car has this.

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