Could the government or anyone with the genius to figure out how to tap into that information also learn your location? You bet they could.
Larsen adds, however, that under CALEA, a law enforcement agency requesting cooperation from a wireless network provider in locating certain people can access that information only by obtaining a court order.
"That court order has a strict legal requirement, like [requesting] a tap or a trace," Larsen said. "A judge has to give permission."
So I called Michael Gross, an attorney I know, and asked how hard it is to get permission to tap a phone. Michael has been practicing criminal law for 35 years in River Edge, N.J.<
Michael told me that permission to tap differs from state to state. But the general requirement is that the highest-level criminal court judge in each county is selected to hear applications made by police officials using sworn affidavits, supported by live testimony. The affidavit states that a crime is being or has been committed and that evidence of person or persons involved in committing that crime can best be obtained by using a wiretap.
Permission is typically given for limited amounts of time, usually on a 30-day basis with the time extended under certain circumstances. Interestingly enough, by law, the person being tapped must be notified, usually within 90 days after the tap, that a tap was placed on the phone.
I asked Gross if approvals vary from judge to judge when taps are requested. "These days I believe this stuff is getting easier," he said. "The judges appointed in recent years have a tendency to assume and rely upon an assumption that the government wouldn't be asking if they weren't entitled. They don't put the applicant through as a severe a test for proof as they used to."
I am aware of the argument that says if you've done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear. But I'm afraid world history is not very reassuring on that score.
This is a huge topic that has many facets, both pro and con, but unfortunately I've used up my allotted space. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming next week.