For cell phone users, and that includes most everyone these days, there are myriad choices in plans beyond the hundreds of phones themselves. Anytime minutes. Off-peak minutes. Domestic roaming charges. International roaming charges. Minutes overage fees. Text messaging plans. Data plans. Limits and slowdowns on data plans.

For a growing number of local law enforcement agencies, they too have plans and choices to consider.

Cellular telephone carriers, who now have unique law enforcement liaison teams, can charge police departments from a few hundred dollars for locating one phone to more than $2,200 for a full-scale wiretap of a suspect, a recent New York Timesreport shows. And some law enforcement agencies are purchasing their own tracking gear in an effort to cut out the carriers.

Such activity is happening in places like Ogden, Utah and Grand Rapids, Michigan, as compared to the FBI, Secret Service and Homeland Security.

It’s a growing business as well as a crime fighting tool.

Tracking and locating services and technology, no doubt, have a place in some enterprise security programs.


Technology Ahead of the Rules

But, it seems, the genie is out of the tech bottle for tracking and locating people and vehicles when it comes to cellular phone and global positioning as well as a combination of both. In addition to local police, private investigators, dads concerned about a daughter’s date, someone caught in a testy divorce, a newspaper reporter or just a nerd tired of playing with a basement computer all have grabbed hold of surveillance equipment.

Some cell carriers now routinely market a catalog of surveillance fees to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services, according to the New York Timesreport. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations. Some GPS devices now are micro-miniature and micro-priced at less than $150.

But it does seem that a police bandwagon for cell phone tracking; growth of cheap GPS aimed at consumers; red light cameras and their blowback, all combined with an election year spur to mistrust government – local, state and federal, could bring back that Big Brother thing. Ironically and thankfully, Americans see security video in public and private places differently; polls show they are reassured about their security and safety when they see video cameras.

Still, you can’t really blame the police for their growing embrace of technology.

Budgets are squeezed. Police officers are being laid off. Cities need to see crime prevention results and more money in their coffers from red light camera revenue, for example.

But there are bumps along the tech road.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously restricted police use of a GPS device to track alleged criminal suspects in a rare test of how privacy rights will be protected in the digital age. The court rejected the government’s view that long-term surveillance of a suspect by GPS tracking without a warrant is no different than traditional forms of monitoring. But its decision was not totally clear, leaving open the overarching question of how government can use the information generated by modern technology for surveillance purposes.

That decision reversed the conviction of suspected D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones and was seen as a landmark ruling in applying the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as compared to advances in surveillance technology, Washington lawyer Andrew Pincus stated in a brief on Jones’s behalf.

The court, without dissent, ruled that prosecutors violated Jones’s rights when they attached a GPS device to his Jeep and monitored his movements for 28 days. In one of the Washington region’s most celebrated drug trials, the nightclub owner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

When it comes to cellular phone tracking by police and the revenue-involved carriers, the borders are still to be decided.

And what does all this have to do with enterprise security?

Well, businesses have a longer leash than law enforcement and some government agencies. Employees and visitors on private property have an expectation of security as compared to privacy. But what is happening in the public sector, and the reaction by the public and the courts, can impact what private security can do, too.