Cell Phones – Good for Tracking People?

It seems that law enforcement agencies are commonly using the records of people’s cell phones to establish where the people (or at least their phones) were at material times.

A US court decision has recently refused to admit such evidence, as not being properly based on science. One expert quoted in the article calls this use ‘junk science’.

Have there been attacks on the use of cell phone records in Canada on the ground that they are not reliable indicators of location? Should there be?

The US case referred to tracking by use of the relation of the phone to cell transmission towers, not to GPS data. The latter are still considered very reliable, so far as I know.


  1. Interesting that Senate officials used Duffy’s cell phone records to find out where he was during claim periods.
    It’s not exactly what you’re talking about, but because our mobile phones go with us we leave paper trails as well.

  2. That’s the point about triangulation. The word itself tells us that one isn’t enough.

    I haven’t looked at the US decision. I read the article at the link provided by John. The last few paragraphs and the comments are a telling indictment.

  3. Even if trangulated you have to account for “weather, topography, physical obstructions, tower maintenance and whether the phone is being used indoors or out.” If you don’t your location estimates will be wildly off.

  4. Ah, but we’re lawyers functioning in a common law system where, according to the Supreme Court of Canada:

    “In fact it may be said that one of the virtues of the common law is that it has never really let pure logic get in the way of common sense and practical necessity when a desirable result is sought to be achieved.”

    ITO – International Terminal Operators Ltd. v. Miida Electronics Inc., [1986] 1 S.C.R. 752 at 788.

    Law is like horseshoes and hand grenades, but with a more flexible definition of “close”.