Good news hidden in dumb story: cops don't routinely track people via cell GPS

Cops would take three days, court order to find phone location mugging victim got for himself

Journalists are as self involved as anyone else. Sometimes more so.

Sometimes a lot more so.

Sometimes so much so that every interaction they have with anything remotely resembling the topic they cover or one that it genuinely newsworthy seems like a genuine human interest story with a more-than-usually-personal twist because the person telling the story is actually the writer writing it!

In the baddest of the bad old days of journalism that tendency was beaten out of young reporters along with their optimism, sense of mission, honesty, integrity and any hope for redemption.

In exchange they would have gained an inconsequential career as an anonymous scribbler 12 to 14 hours per day for about what you'd pay a journeyman plumber.

Those days are over, for good and bad. Which is why we know Jared Keller, a writer and editor at The Atlantic was robbed last night of his cash and his Droid Incredible smart phone.

He believed the story of how he used the track-me function in Android to find the phone was news worthy, mainly because the police couldn't do it for him.

After he reported the crime the cops told him to get the phone's unique ID number from Verizon so the investigators could go to court and get a court order that would order Verizon to track the stolen smartphone's ID number and tell the cops where it was.

The process would take "two or three days, cost several hundred dollars and work only if the phone is actually on."

"To be frank, this may just be a giant waste of your time," said the officer.

Keller eventually did use Android's phone-home feature, which sent him a nice map showing the phone was somewhere in his apartment complex.

Not close enough for the cops, who would have had to search the whole building, near which there had been several other robberies that night. Not worth their effort to retrieve one phone.

So Keller didn't get his phone back and the cops didn't solve the case and the whole thing sounds like a stupid waste of time because the cops couldn't get the information they needed and Verizon wouldn't give it up and when Keller got the information on his own using an app that gave a much closer approximation than even Verizon could have gotten without using the exact same feature on Keller's phone, Keller still didn't get his phone back.

The reason this is actually a good-news story is that, at least when it comes to investigating petty crimes and chasing petty criminals, the cops know the rules about illegal search and seizure of digital property and about illegally tracing the location of someone using the GPS function in their phone.

They also know the procedure for how to get a search warrant, what judge to go to, how much time and money it will cost and whether it's worth the effort at all – to show they'd done it before when it actually did seem to be worth the effort, and went through the process rather than taking shortcuts they thought they had a right to take, cheating to avoid limits on their power, or surreptitiously intimidating cell phone companies into giving them information they shouldn't have, as the FBI and possibly NSA and DHS have done in the past.

It's a little pathetic how good it feels to know that at least someone follows rules designed to protect someone other than themselves.

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