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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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mbouldin October 10, 2013 at 11:54 am

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