Phone companies pretty much always know where you are--to within 100 feet. Annually, about 25,000 people are stalked across these United States.
Eventually the two trends meet, to the detriment of the stalked.
Therapists who work with domestic-abuse victims say they are increasingly seeing clients who have been stalked via their phones. At the Next Door Solutions for Battered Women shelter in San Jose, Calif., director Kathleen Krenek says women frequently arrive with the same complaint: "He knows where I am all the time, and I can't figure out how he's tracking me."
In such cases, Ms. Krenek says, the abuser is usually tracking a victim's cellphone. That comes as a shock to many stalking victims, she says, who often believe that carrying a phone makes them safer because they can call 911 if they're attacked.
There are various technologies for tracking a person's phone, and with the fast growth in smartphones, new ones come along frequently. Earlier this year, researchers with iSec Partners, a cyber-security firm, described in a report how anyone could track a phone within a tight radius. All that is required is the target person's cellphone number, a computer and some knowledge of how cellular networks work, said the report, which aimed to spotlight a security vulnerability.
Inevitably, protections will be put in place, and those who are lax about respecting them will be sued by victims--in part because their pockets are deep and they should know better.
Now abuse shelters tell women to turn off their phones the minute they walk through the door, but this is a sad state of affairs. Eventually, the phone companies will have to become part of the solution.
How that might work:
The organization put that policy in place after a close call. On Feb. 26, Jennie Barnes arrived at a shelter to escape her husband, Michael Barnes, according to a police affidavit filed in a domestic-violence case against Mr. Barnes in New Hampshire state court. Ms. Barnes told police she was afraid that Mr. Barnes, who has admitted in court to assaulting his wife, would assault her again.
Ms. Barnes told a police officer that "she was in fear for her life," according to court filings. The next day, a judge issued a restraining order requiring Mr. Barnes to stay away from his wife.
Later that day, court records indicate, Mr. Barnes called his wife's cellular carrier, AT&T, and activated a service that let him track his wife's location. Mr. Barnes, court records say, told his brother that he planned to find Ms. Barnes.
The cellular carrier sent Ms. Barnes a text message telling her the tracking service had been activated, and police intercepted her husband. Mr. Barnes, who pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife and to violating a restraining order by tracking her with the cellphone, was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
The cat and mouse on this one will be fascinating to watch. New rules galore.