"Bugging" by mobile phones attacked


THE use of mobile phones as "electronic tags" was condemned yesterday as a major invasion of privacy by a British Labour MP and by civil liberties groups.

The Labour backbencher, Ms Ann Clwyd, claimed that police pinpointing of a person's whereabouts via the mobile phone networks was "just like illegal bugging". She said she would be questioning the Home Secretary today about it.

The revelation that a mobile phone can reveal its owner's position to within 50 feet and that some phone network companies store the information for up to two years also outraged the civil rights campaigners. Liberty said no one should have the right to track an individual's movements unless a judge had authorised it.

Britain has seven million mobile phone users, many of whom will be surprised to learn that they can be located regardless of whether they are making a call.

Either the individual handset or the network checks every few minutes on the location of the phone so that a call can be relayed when its number is dialled on both analog and digital phones. Networks also need to know the location of the phone for billing purposes.

The information is now being used by police to trace criminals to crime scenes.

Mr William Ostram, head of corporate affairs at Cellnet, said it was exceptional that the police came to them to trace a criminal". It happened only when someone presented an alibi.

"The criminal fraternity haven't twigged that having their phone on could cause a problem because their location can be pinpointed. We try not to draw attention to this fact, it's extremely useful."