This article is "off topic." That is, it is not genealogy related.
In the United States, our criminal courts often use "home confinement" instead of sending a criminal to jail. A GPS tracking device is placed on the criminal, typically an ankle bracelet. The bracelet contains a tracking device that reports if the criminal leaves home. The device is not 100% reliable but generally works well. The criminal usually remains at home, no longer a danger to the public and not a financial drain on taxpayers who otherwise would need to pay for room and board while the criminal is in jail.
Of course, the law enforcement authorities do not limit their tracking to criminals; they also track YOU, even if you are not wearing a tracking bracelet. With a minimum of paperwork, any law enforcement officer can track your location at any time, assuming you carry a cell phone. If someone knows exactly where you are, they probably can figure out what you are doing.
According to an article in the New York Times at http://goo.gl/EJ7Up, cellphone companies reported that they responded to 1.3 million demands for subscriber information in 2011 from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations, and other information in the course of investigations. Over a million requests? Yes, Big Brother is watching you!
Most cell phones these days include GPS devices that report your location plus or minus ten feet or so. Even if your cell phone does not include a GPS, the cell companies know where you are by recording the location of the local cell tower that your phone is accessing. By using a method known as "cell tower triangularization," the cell companies usually know your location within a mile or so as long as your cell phone is turned on. Cell phones communicate silently with the nearest cell tower every few minutes, whether you place or receive calls or not. This "polling" informs the cell phone company where you are so that the companies can route incoming calls to your nearest cell tower.
Picture courtesy of: http://www.al911.org/wireless/triangulation_location.htm
Not only are law enforcement agencies tracking your location, but they are also able to read your text messages and see who you called and who called you. The cell phone companies are turning over records thousands of times a day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas, and other requests.
It is easy to dismiss these reports by thinking, "They are only tracking criminals;" but, the reports seem to imply that far more people are being watched. Cases involve everything from street crimes handled by local police departments to financial crimes and intelligence investigations at the state and federal levels. If you happen to have the same name as a suspected criminal, or if you are suspected for any reason, you can be watched.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruling about the use of tracking devices by the police (available at http://goo.gl/lwWFx), noted that GPS data can reveal whether a person “is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful spouse, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, or an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.” Did you attend a conservative or Tea Party meeting? Or a liberal political meeting or a Libertarian meeting or a religious meeting? If so, someone can figure that out by finding out where you were at the time.
Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?
What can you do to avoid this surveillance? Well, you could refuse to purchase or use a cell phone. However, in today's high tech world, many of us depend on our phones. Another option is to pay cash (so your credit card purchase cannot be tracked) for prepaid cellphones that do not require identification. The prepaid phones also transmit location information to the cell carrier and keep track of the numbers you call, but they are not connected to you by name. When finished, or whenever you think you might be tracked, you can drop the prepaid phone in the trash and purchase a new one. Career criminals refer to these phones as "burners." However, I doubt if many private citizens care to go to such lengths. Besides, all the authorities need to do is obtain cell phone records of your friends or relatives and see who they are calling or who has been calling them. Your “secret number” will probably be on the list, meaning you are secret no more.
Turning your phone off when you’re not using it will also help because it will not ping your location to the cell company when it’s off, but are you really going to do that? Shutting it down does not even guarantee it’s off — malware can keep it on without your realizing it. Of course, turning it off also means you will miss incoming calls.
How private is YOUR life?