How Can Police Track Location By A Cell Phone Ping?

by on October 21, 2010

Northern Kentucky investigators are currently attempting to locate a missing person based on cell phone pings. The technology allows a cellular telephone company to track a person based on their travels in real time. In hindsight, the pings come from a specific tower when a call or text is made or received by the owner of a cellular telephone.

According to cNET, Mobile devices, when they are within range, constantly let cell towers and the mobile switching center, which is connected to multiple towers, know of their location. The mobile switching center uses the location information to ensure that incoming calls and messages are routed to the tower nearest to the user.

If a subscriber is unable to get service, this location information is usually purged from the mobile switching center. But some location information may remain in call detail records. Some mobile operators may store the most recent communication between a device and a mobile switching center for a certain period of time, usually 24 hours.

When someone is missing, even this small bit of information can prove useful in determining the approximate location of a device using the updates from the mobile switching center. If the mobile subscriber is still within cell phone range, authorities can track his or her general movement by following the sequence of towers the phone has contacted or pinged. And if the cell phone goes out of range or runs out of battery power, the mobile operator may be able to use the last recorded location before the cell phone either lost its signal or lost power.

But the most useful information for locating people when they are lost comes when someone has initiated or received a call or text message on their phone. Mobile operators keep records of these events for billing purposes in what is known as a call data record, or CDR. And they can go back to these records to get a historical account of the cell phone’s location.

The best information available shows that if a phone is turned OFF, their will be no ping or ability to follow the person’s general whereabouts based on their cell phone location. That said, many smartphones and other advanced cell phones are difficult, if not impossible, to turn OFF. The best ability to track a person’s location is if calls or texts are made or received.

This information is the most up to date available as of October, 2010. Northern Kentucky criminal defense attorney Michael W. Bouldin has researched this issue as the police are looking for clues of the disappearance of a missing teen in Northern Kentucky. Police are looking in a park based on cell phone information. If you have been charged with a crime or are being investigated, contact Michael Bouldin at mwbouldin@fuse.net or 859-581-6453.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

relationship website October 5, 2013 at 8:12 am

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mbouldin October 10, 2013 at 11:54 am

You may share my website and blog.

Vince April 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

I am wanted for theft. I have a I phone. Can the State Police ping my phone. If so how can I stop this.

Michael Bouldin April 21, 2014 at 8:50 am

You can turn your phone off; it is the only way to stop the ping. It is unusual for them to triangulate a cell phone to find someone as it is not easy. They generally use it after the fact or to locate a missing person.

Julie May 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for the information as I’ve become an investigator in a few areas & I have learned more than I wanted to know on the tracking/pinging of cell phones especially; cell phones that are E911 enabled since Sept. 2010 when my sister was 911 reported endangered/missing by her preacher. Holly was 911 reported around 11:00 a.m. & would not be found until 6/6:30p.m. that day less than .335 of a mile from her cell tower in a field off the bike lane of a large heavily traveled park on foot as she didn’t have a drivers license or car and not far from the homeless shelter who put her out 2 days prior. Public Safety officers & the local mental healthcare facility knew Holly well as she called 911 more than a few times attempting suicide and was a patient at the Mental health department. Holly was diagnosed with Mental illness after Sept. 11, 2001 as she was a United Airlines flight attendant (23 years) and was working in-flight from Frankfurt Germany to Washington Dulles on that tragic day changing many peoples lives forever. I will never know why it took so long to locate her and the police, town, officials aren’t talking as I’ve asked them all and then some. I have her CDR as I had her phone put in my name legally (Safelink/Straighttalk) and CL is listed as the state for her location more than a few times but she was in Virginia and the phone companies are now the ones who don’t have answers? There’s more but I’ll stop here. Any thoughts on the CL location? Thank you.

Michael Bouldin May 20, 2014 at 11:39 am

Thank you for sharing your sister’s story. My post was intended to inform people, including those being investigated and criminal defendants, that the government and criminal investigators can trace your location from cell phone pings. I am not an expert and don’t know the meaning on CL location. As far as I know, CL is not an abbreviation for any state. Is it “Call Lost.” I understand that CDR is the Call Detail Records. For more information on how Law Enforcement Tracks Cellular Phones, see link by Matt Blaze.

Julie June 17, 2014 at 3:30 am

Thank you for responding this has been a long frustrating journey searching for many answers to questions I had about my sisters last day only to be told by LE I shouldn’t have any questions, denied a copy of her police report; LE keeping her phone for 3 months stating they never even went thru it but all of her other personal effects on/with her that day were released in a matter of days. A journey for truth, possible closure one day I would do all over again; finding answers to many of my questions were needed as LE was not going to answer as well as a few others in local government positions. Thanks again.

Michael Bouldin June 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

Thank you for your post. I am glad that I can provide answers to those seeking justice. If you need to consult, please contact me directly at mwbouldin2@gmail.com.

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