10 Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev. 103 (1998-1999)
Lost - The Government Knows Where You Are: Cellular Telephone Call Location Technology and the Expectation of Privacy

handle is hein.journals/stanlp10 and id is 111 raw text is: Lost? The Government Knows
Where You Are: Cellular Telephone
Call Location Technology and the
Expectation of Privacy
Matthew Mickle Werdegar

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on
June 12, 1994, the night Nicole   Unreg
Brown   Simpson   and  Ronald
Goldman were murdered, O.J.        po        e
Simpson placed a phone call to his       ice o
girlfriend Paula Barbieri from the  location    t
cellular telephone that was usually
stored in his Ford Bronco.' The  could stri
prosecution in the O.1. Simpson
case believed the fact that Simpson right
used his cell phone to make the           to  be
call indicated he was not at home
at the time of the murders as his
defense attorneys alleged. However, because the cellular
telephone was a portable model that could be removed
from the Bronco, police had no way of determining from
where the cellular call to Barbieri was placed and,
therefore, could not establish Simpson's whereabouts
when he made the call.' Two and a half years later, in
January 1997, Karen Nelson got lost while driving
through a blizzard on a remote stretch of South Dakota
highway and drove her truck off the road into a snow
bank Nelson had a cellular telephone with her and was
able to call 911 for help, but she did not know where she
was.   Because emergency workers had no way of
accurately determining her location, it took almost 40
hours and a massive rescue operation involving snow
mobiles and airplanes before searchers finally located

J.D., Stanford Law School, 1998; M.A., University of London,
1993; B.A., Stanford University, 1991. Senior Note Editor,
volume 50, Stanford Law Review. Law clerk to Judge D. Lowell
Jensen, Northern District of California, 1998-1999. Law clerk to
Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,


Nelson's truck.4
These two events illustrate an
!d  use b          obvious but frequently overlooked
=ellular           characteristic of cellular telephones:
they are portable, and because they
olog      are portable there is currently no
Ihf&o     ,_,,,   way   of   determining  with  any
us of     our      precision  the location of a cell
phone user. Yet, as a result of rules
eft  alone        promulgated   by    the   Federal
Communications       Commission
(FCC) in December, 1997, this
seemingly immutable characteristic
of cell phones is about to change.' In order to provide
the same level of 911 service to cellular telephone users
as is currently available to regular telephone users, the
FCC is requiring cellular telephone companies by October
2001 to have the capability of determining the location
from which a cellular phone call originates to within 125
meters.6 Under the FCC's new rules, both the O.J.
Simpson murder trial and Karen Nelson's near-death
experience in rural South Dakota would have had very
different outcomes. Had both events taken place in
October 2001, telephone records routinely stored by the
phone company could have revealed exactly where O.J.
Simpson was on the night of the Nicole Brown Simpson
and Ronald Goldman murders, and location information
automatically forwarded to South Dakota 911 operators
could have reduced the time it took to rescue Karen
Nelson from hours to minutes.7
Almost everyone would agree that in the case of
Karen Nelson, the FCC's new rules represent a positive
advancement. It is hard to find fault with enhancing the
ability of police and rescue personnel to respond quickly

VOLUME 10:1 1998

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