Now this is a question that has been on the boards for countless years. And, no matter who says what, it always ends in an argument. So, I’m going to give you the facts and the LAW and you decide from there. Fair enough? This is how I perceive a true “Ping.”
1. What is a “Ping?” A Ping of a cell phone is when the cell phone service provider, under express legal authority, sends a signal to a specific phone on their network. Whereupon, when the phone is “hit”, the tower that the phone hit off of reports back to the mobile service provider. A true Ping is not calling the subject up, pre-texting him/her and asking them where they are at.
2. Does this “Ping” give the exact location of the phone? No. The service provider relates to law enforcement the tower that the phone hit. Then, law enforcement has to go to that tower location and painstakingly search a radius from the tower for the phone. It’s not like on TV, folks.
3. What is the Law?
Look specifically at:
(b) Prohibition on Sale or Transfer of Confidential Phone Records Information
(c) Prohibition on Purchase or Receipt of Confidential Phone Records Information-
`(1) Except as otherwise permitted by applicable law, whoever, in interstate or foreign commerce, knowingly and intentionally purchases or receives, or attempts to purchase or receive, confidential phone records information of a covered entity, without prior authorization from the customer to whom such confidential phone records information relates, or knowing or having reason to know such information was obtained fraudulently, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. (any emphasis is mine).
Look at that word, “confidential.” Is the data you’re seeking in your client’s phone bill? No? Then it’s confidential. Problem solved.
So, Mr. Hot Shot P.I., you say you can ping a phone? Well, first off, a true ping can only be done by the cell phone service provider. So does that mean you have a source inside?? Naughty, naughty…see “b” above. Secondly, for you to have that information in your possession can get you up to 10 years. Hey, don’t blame me, go see George W.. He passed it.
How about detailed phone records, Tom? The only LEGAL way you can get them is through an attorney or law enforcement, unless the victim is providing you their records on their own. And we are now seeing where cell phone service providers are not even doing that anymore without a warrant or subpoena.
“But my P.I. has a source in Canada. Canada is not ruled by American law.” Yes, but…if you or your P.I. get possession of those records, via fax, mail, carrier pigeon, etc. you are now in violation of the above law. Possession is possession.
So, what’s the conclusion? Still think you’re legal? Ok, then next time you get those phone records no one else can get, go to the local FBI office and brag to them how well you did. We’ll see you in a few years!
If you are an Attorney seeking a Subject Matter Expert in the field of Mobile Phone Forensics and Cell Tower Analysis, please contact me at: 864-252-7451 or at tom [at] cellularforensics [dot] com