back to article UK Information Commissioner OKs use of phone data to track coronavirus spread

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has provided advice to the government that it can use anonymised mobile phone data in the fight against coronavirus. Deputy commissioner Steve Wood took to the interwebs on Saturday to state: "Generalised location data trend analysis is helping to tackle the coronavirus crisis. …

  1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Coat

    I'm here for the (heated) comments.

    I'm here for the (heated) comments.

    Five, four, three, two ...

    1. My Opinion

      Re: I'm here for the (heated) comments.

      ... none!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Facepalm

      Re: I'm here for the (heated) comments.

      > I'm here for the (heated) comments.

      Are you feeling chilly? Perhaps you're got a cold...

      [ Icon -> don't touch your face ]

  2. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Devil

    Bugger

    “Well the Australian government isn't doing that. What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia. They will understand how Australia works and how Australia thinks and what our rules are and what our society understands and accepts. Our values. That is what we will do in Australia. We're not going to go and cut paste measures from other places, which have completely different societies.”

    .

    The old fool could have mentioned Australia a bit more.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Bugger

      If you replace Australia With U.S., that could have been a statement direct from Trump.

      1. NightFox

        Re: Bugger

        You'd also need to replace all the "we"s with "I"s

        And maybe a bit about how the experts were "amazed at my knowledge of phone data"

    2. GioCiampa

      Re: Bugger

      Double standards methinks... are they still trying to repeal the Laws of Mathematics to weaken end-to-end encryption...?

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Bugger

      Surprised given his other comments on his government's response to CoViD19 he didn't mention the word 'pray' once.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bugger

        Surprised given his other comments on his government's response to CoViD19 he didn't mention the word 'pray' once.

        Various churches have been encouraging their congregations to attend services - even still using shared ceremonial spoons etc. Some have sought exemption designation as "essential services" to avoid closure. As many in their congregations are elderly it seems a sure-fire way for them to meet their (alleged) maker very soon.

        A friend encountered a devout evangelical Christian neighbour in the street yesterday - and before she could react was enveloped in a big hug.

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

          Re: Bugger

          Apparently the Patriarch of the Cyprus Orthodox Church has decreed that, as the wine and wafers are he blood and body of Christ, the corona virus will not be passed on during communion. This, of course, is based on a double blind trial - well blind something or other.

    4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Bugger

      >We're not going to go and cut paste measures from other places, which have completely different societies.”

      Not even the laws of mathematics

    5. RobHib
      Coat

      Re: Bugger

      “Well the Australian government isn't doing that. What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia.<...> "

      Funny that! The Oz Government's never had an original idea before. For many decades just about every law on the Australian Statutes comes from either the UK or US or some silly mashup of the two.

      So I wonder what that 's all about—probably a hiccough in the Concepts Regurgitation Department and wrong words spilled forth.

      Of course, when this crisis is over Oz will return to normal and continue to do what it's always done best: (a) blindly follow everyone else's ideas so long as they're only from elsewhere in the Anglophone world, (b) act as the world's quarry for minerals and gas which it sells off to all comers at cheaper prices than the local Australian inhabitants can buy them for, and (c) be a large goldfish bowl for bemused tourists who are always eager to gawk at its curious inmates.

      The UK and US could do Oz inhabitants a favour by charging Australia with breaching copyright of their laws!

      P.S.: Two notable concepts unknown in the land of Oz: 'Local manufacturing' and 'Self sufficiency'.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bugger

        It's true a lot does.

        Although a lot doesn't either.

        E.g. Penalty rates and miniumum wage set by a government regulator rather than parliament is more Swiss or Scandinavian where no minimum wages existed but strong collective bargaining regulations and laws exist.

        UK / USA style university tuition fees massive vote loser for Tony.

        Plus high level supports for multiculturalism and immigration.

  3. Neil of Qld

    Aust PM

    He is hoping the flag waving will blind people to his incompetence

    1. KevSilk

      Re: Aust PM

      I'm afraid that ship has sailed...

      or rather, docked at Sydney and let a load of infected peeps disappear into the night

  4. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Devil

    So how are those countries getting the data? Google location services can be turned off, as well as location usage in search results. I heard Switzerland is using cell phone operators, which have a rough location from the cell mast users are connected to, and that cannot be prevented (though not as precise). Some countries force people to install an app, which I guess can technically be fooled by a GPS spoofer.

    Ah well. There's always ankle monitors like for prisoners on supervised release...

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Telco can locate people well enough

      They don't really need Google or Apple data.

      1. RyokuMas
        Stop

        Re: Telco can locate people well enough

        "Google location services can be turned off..."

        Really???

        ... okay, so that was a while back now, but it would't surprise me if they had just made a token apology and carried on regardless...

      2. Jake Maverick

        Re: Telco can locate people well enough

        no, you can't turn it off! if they know your mobile phone number or the tracker id on the handset....not only can they monitor your movements they can also turn camera and microphone on remotedly and listen in.....they can also use these flying little robots to assassinate you from the sky and anybody who happens to be standing within a few hundred metres of you at the time.....why don't people know this already? it's not 'new' news, 20 years old already......

        1. Helcat

          Re: Telco can locate people well enough

          "not only can they monitor your movements"

          Nope. They can track the location of your phone.

          Of cause, some people seem to be glued to their mobile phone, but some of us are quite capable of putting it down, forgetting about it then wondering where the darn thing is.

          Normally it's in the last place I'll look. Then again, when I find the darn thing, I stop looking. Unless I'm being extra awkward...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Telco can locate people well enough

            "Normally it's in the last place I'll look."

            "Normally it's in the last first place I'll look"

            Your brain doesn't see it because it doesn't expect the search to be that easy. After exhausting all other possibilities you eventually come back and check the first place again - so I suppose technically that does become the "last" place you look.

      3. Persona Silver badge

        Re: Telco can locate people well enough

        EE can't locate me. They would first need to provide a usable signal in my area to have any chance,

      4. Persona Silver badge

        Re: Telco can locate people well enough

        And when they do they will see hundreds of people congregating in high rise buildings.......where they live.

    2. JohnMurray

      https://twitter.com/TectonixGEO/status/1242628347034767361

    3. JetSetJim
      Boffin

      As you rightly surmise, the operators can provide this information quite readily for phones that are switched on (cue rants from peeps saying you can pry my location from my cold dead hands, I'm only using the clacks for my personal communications now!).

      As you move around the network, your phone is constantly telling the network where it is in terms of radio measurements of the cells around it. Each time your phone receives a notification, that's a data session that requires it to fully connect to the network to receive the data that indicates this. Having radio measurements of several cells will give you a pretty good idea of where the mobile is. Add a sprinkling of clever maths and the accuracy improves a fair amount.

      This can be done for every phone in moderately near real time (*)

      (*) - subject to server farm capacity relative to number of subscribers in the network and a bunch of other parameters too complicated to enumerate here, even if they were fully understood, and different vendors of such solutions offer different capabilities/accuracy

      1. Patrician
        Pint

        Have a beer for the Discworld reference

        1. JetSetJim
          Pint

          <slurp>

          We need an empty beer glass icon!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "We need an empty beer glass icon!"

            Is that a pessimist - or an optimist expecting it will get refilled immediately?

            1. JetSetJim
              Thumb Up

              Neither, merely to indicate appreciation of a pint raised in honour of your post. But if it'll be refilled, too, even better

    4. spold

      >>>

      Ah well. There's always ankle monitors like for prisoners on supervised release...

      <<<

      Should be OK in Australia where the early (foreign) settlers were pushed off a ship with a ball and chain attached....

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > So how are those countries getting the data?

      Yes, it's purely coincidental (wink) that Governments seem to have a tool already developed that can identify groups of people gathering.

      Presumably this is intended only for use against true subversives such as young people wanting to hold an illegal rave and is in no way whatsoever going to be used because they think there might be any sort of civil uprising. After all, people are so pleased with the way politicians run the country in normal times that they would never feel the need to object in any way, other than voting for a completely different party at the next election which might be years away but will result in the influx of a brand-new set of competent politicians who will make all of the changes desired and in no way will continue the status quo... [continues p.94]

      1. JetSetJim

        >> So how are those countries getting the data?

        >...Governments seem to have a tool already developed...

        Nope - the operators do, though, and use it to help optimise the network. An optimised network = fewer miffed customers = better retention rate = more money. There is no sinister, lizard-driven purpose.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "There is no sinister, lizard-driven purpose."

          Any technology can be turned to an unwarranted political advantage. That's why any weakening of a society's checks & balances sets a dangerous precedent.

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Google location services can be turned off, as well as location usage in search results."

      Doesn't matter, at least not yet. It looks like they are looking for movements of people in general, not tracking individuals. The majority won't turn off location data, some won't even know how to, so the majority will still be seen as they move around.

    7. M_W

      They use Cell-site triangulation

      Your phone registers with more than one cell site - usually three or more. And they can triangulate your phone based on the strength of the signal from each base station to the handset. And you don't need to make a call either. Just needs to be turned on and registered with GSM. It's called Multilateration. The cellular networks only would share the information if they had an official request from law enforcement, but I get the feeling they will just be passing these feeds on wholesale to the intelligence community for full assessment. This will be hard to wind back from the intelligence community once the government have this information, which is why the Australians are so loathe to do it.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone_tracking

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They use Cell-site triangulation

        NO!

        we have NBN with $18 billion worth of tracking and sevaliance equipment already functioning no need to do anything else.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I might strap my mobile phone to the neighbour's cat and let them trick the UK government in to thinking I'm spending most of my time outside.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Based on my cat, this may cause problems, as my cat is usually in a neighbour's house most of the day, and often on the neighbour's bed...

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Somehow this post reminded me of the story from South Korea of the manager and his secretary who's trip to a hotel was revealed by location data released in connection with tracing CoViD

      2. Cederic Silver badge

        I hate to break it to you but it does sound like you merely get to occasionally borrow your neighbour's cat.

        1. CAPS LOCK

          "...your neighbour's cat."

          There seems to be some problem here with the cat ownership issue. No-one owns a cat, it's the reverse.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Not sure how it can be anonymised

    The whole point is stop known people skipping quarantine for 14 days.

    Yes, UK, that's 14 days, not 7.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

      Yes, in the UK, it is 14 days.

      The counter resets to 7 days if you show symptoms, even if you're already on day 13.

      They published a handy chart for those who can't be bothered to read:

      https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874011/Stay_at_home_guidance_diagram.pdf

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

        Well they don't seem to be getting that message across very well, especially when talking about the PM and his 7-day quarantine.

        1. MrWibble

          Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

          7 days from when you start to show symptoms.

          14 days from when anyone (else) in your household shows symptoms.

          Quite straight forward, I thought.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

            The recommendation from the WHO is it's 14 day period from when you start to show symptoms, and that's what they're doing elsewhere around Europe.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

              Cambridge University virologist actually said that the virus stops being excreted after a few days, it's your own immune response that then tries to kill you.

              Prejudiced in favour of my old technical college, but they do have a bit of expertise in those things.

          2. ibmalone

            Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

            Sort of, a recent BBC infographic can be summarised as:

            1. Symptoms: isolate for 7 days.

            2. Live with someone who has symptoms? Isolate for 14 days.

            2a. If isolating 14 days and develop symptoms reset your clock to 7 days isolation from onset.

            2b. Other people in the household do not need to reset their 14 days unless they develop symptoms (go to 2a).

            2a+2b would seem to leave a gap for 2nd round of infection, but there you go.

      2. Allan George Dyer
        Boffin

        Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

        @AC - "They published a handy chart for those who can't be bothered to read:"

        Thanks for the chart... but do the rules make sense?

        So, the first assumption appears to be that a person only remains infectious for 7 days after they show symptoms... is that true?

        Even if that is true, a person can go out again 14 days after the first person in their household shows symptoms. Using the example of Household 2, person D might isolate from the rest of the household, but then contact and become infected from person C on day 19, after they are allowed out. They might not show symptoms for another 13 days, spreading the infection further.

        Am I missing something, or is this based on, "well, that's only going to happen in a small percentage of households" wishful thinking?

        1. Rabbers

          The isolation chart

          Heh - that sound's like a Stross Novel!

          I presume that the folk that have been stuck in a house with virus-ridden loved ones for at least 7 days are presumed to have a superior immune response that means that they are presumed immune and can therefore go out.

          I'm guessing here that if they then carry on as if nothing happened, and if they are nevertheless carrying the virus, then because they aren't suffering, they aren't launching droplets of it here there and everywhere and are therefore unlikely to become a seed for a new outbreak within their 7 days that they should be isolation.

          Just a guess though - it kind of makes sense.

          1. ibmalone

            Re: The isolation chart

            It's pretty contagious, but you're not guaranteed to have picked it up, especially as the person with symptoms is meant to be staying clear of everyone else and taking extra precautions.

            In context, that average number of others people are expected to infect if they were to behave as normal, is about 3. I've seen higher and lower estimates, but we don't really know. 3 is quite high, I think regular flu is lower. Yet, that's only three people of the many you'd normally interact with if we weren't taking extra precautions. Don't misunderstand; it's still high, and 3 to the power of n gets big quickly, which is why we're all working from home and doing everything we can to decrease that number, because even small changes are big down the line, but it does mean that you are not guaranteed to have caught it in the first round.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

          The assumption is that either you will succumb to SARS-CoV-2 within 7 days of the first person becoming ill or you won't, in which case you have developed a resistance to it and can no longer be a carrier.

          Remember the person who becomes ill will have been spreading SARS-CoV-2 for several days around your house before they became ill, so an assumption is that at the point the first person becomes ill all other members of the household will already be carrying active SARS-CoV-2, just not displaying CoViD19 symptoms.

          1. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: Not sure how it can be anonymised

            You should add that "in which case you have developed a resistance to it and can no longer be a carrier" is another assumption. There is no study to prove that, two cases that seem to disprove that, and a history of other diseases like 'flus that evolve so quickly that one vaccination is no guarantee.

            Never assume or you make an ass of you, me, the PM, the Health Minister, the Scottish Minister, and the idiotic adviser to the PM who drove the 'herd immunity' strategy.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wedge

    It is the thin edge of the wedge. The austrailian PM has a point.

    The ICO did not specify any technical detail on how the data could be processed.

    The Taiwan model is interesting and works as follows

    You have to have bluetooth on - dont have it on - the phone reports you to the authorities and you could be fined if you move masts.

    The bluetooth samles those phones you have come into contact with and logs them in an encrypted id. and The encryption is tied to your phone.

    If you get infected, you inform the app - the list of contacts and the key are sent to the state - and the other phones are identified.

    Everyone you got in contact with is then tested.

    If you infected and you go out - you get fined.

    If you go out without your phone - you get fined.

    If your phone runs out of charge - you get fined.

    obviously, if you tamper with the app or logs - you get fined

    Allegedly - no GPS data captured.

    That sort of system might not be so bad. However - it is not done like that in other ocuntries - where GPS data can be captured...

    Imagine a 'National response app' - mandated to all carriers?

    The ICO has not specified the means of processing - they could technically capture everyones location data going forward. Data Protection is more about managing mission creep than anything else.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wedge

      If the government gave two hoots about privacy that would work in reverse:

      Your phone records timestamps of contacts anonymous IDs, and keeps this internal.

      If you get sick your device's identifiers (possibly changing by the day) get published to the list of infected phones along with a date range for when you are expected to be/have been infectious.

      Other peoples phones can then see for themselves IF they came near the published list and when that was.

      No need for anyone else to have a dossier on your movements and everyone you saw.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: Wedge

        I'm interested in just how accurate any of these measures are. For example, A lot of houses (in the UK at least) have the living area separated from the street by two courses of brick and an air-gap, often pierced by a window and a door. Someone who is legitimately indoors following the self-isolation rules could wrongly be placed several metres outside the house. Alternatively, people walking on the pavement outside could be classed as contacts despite never actually having anything to do with the self-isolating individual.

        1. iGNgnorr

          Re: Wedge

          "I'm interested in just how accurate any of these measures are. For example, A lot of houses (in the UK at least) have the living area separated from the street by two courses of brick and an air-gap, often pierced by a window and a door. Someone who is legitimately indoors following the self-isolation rules could wrongly be placed several metres outside the house. Alternatively, people walking on the pavement outside could be classed as contacts despite never actually having anything to do with the self-isolating individual."

          You are missing the point. Twice.

          1: This is being implemented using anonymised data, therefore it isn't for tracking individuals. (Clearly, without anonimisation it could be, but this isn't the stated use.)

          2: This isn't anything to do with people just stepping outside, it is to track significant movements. It is to get a picture of how much general movement there is, and where it is taking place. (Again, without anonimisation, it could be used to track individuals, but that isn't the stated use case, and in any case, not whether anyone is one side of a wall or the other!)

          For example, this data can be used to see if tens of thousands of people are driving 20 miles to exercise, or whether just a few hundred are. One may require further restrictions of movement, but the other probably not.

          There are obvious concerns about how this data could be [mis]used, but mistaking someone walking past your home for you isn't one of them.

          1. Irongut

            Re: Wedge

            You are missing the point entirely. The Taiwanese app is not anonymising data, if it were how would they know who an infected person's contacts are in order to test them?

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: Wedge

      If you don't possess a 'smart' phone do they forcibly give you (or make you pay for) one?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Joke

        Re: Wedge

        > If you don't possess a 'smart' phone do they forcibly give you (or make you pay for) one?

        No, they just don't let you out at all and serves you right for being a luddite. ;-)

        1. HashimFromSheffield

          Re: Wedge

          Let's not just jump to conclusions, he could just be a drug dealer

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon
            Paris Hilton

            Re: Wedge

            So..Luddite is worse than drug dealer - who knew!?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Wedge

              List of famous drug dealers:

              British American Tobacco ... legal

              Hershey....legal

              Kenco....legal

              GlaxoSmithKline....legal

              Coca-Cola....legal

              William Grant & Sons....legal

              Street corner cannabis dealers....illegal

              "Worse" as regards drug dealers is a bit relative.

              Luddites on the other hand actually smashed machinery, which wasn't terribly constructive.

              1. Sir Runcible Spoon

                Re: Wedge

                I'm beginning to think they might have had a point though. Human nature encompasses a wide variety of persona's, the worst of which tend to gravitate to positions of power. Technology amplifies that power. Oh well, at least we can all work towards a gilded cage these days.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Wedge

        Haven't you realised, a 'smart' phone is your identity card...

        I suspect that in the near future the government will provide free 'smart' phones to every one and legislate that they must be switched on and carried at all times outside of your home...

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Wedge

      If I was in Singapore which of my three phones are they going to use for tracking? Best guess all of them except one of them is a feature phone so no installing an app on that.

      1. JetSetJim
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Wedge

        > one of them is a feature phone so no installing an app on that.

        I wonder what could be done within the confines of the Java computer that sits inside the SIM card...

        AFAIK, the SIM can query the phone for information (subject to the support of the chipset to process the requests, and I've no idea about what that might be like in a feature phone), and the SIM can SMS it up to a server. Not too much of a stretch to have the SIM request RF measurements and send them up. SIM app can be pushed by the operator, no chance for you to override either as you won't have the keys to the SIM.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SIM_Application_Toolkit

  8. tip pc Silver badge

    Sunset date?

    In these times many would support the use of draconian laws and methods so long as they had sunset clauses and even better if they where overseen by judges and a jury.

    The moment we do not need them, the date for revocation (months not years) should be set and the laws revoked.

    1. ThinkingMonkey

      Maybe so, but...

      Once that can of worms is opened it'll be hard to close. It's strictly for public health reasons now but once the public has gotten a taste of the government "tracking" your phone, and decided "Well, that really wasn't so bad.", there'll be two then three then a dozen reasons why "Just for the good of the public, generally speaking." the government tracks phones for more and more reasons. And the anonymized data will slowly go by the wayside, too. They'll know exactly, precisely who you are and who everyone in your contacts is. The government, especially here in the U.S., has proven many, many times over that they cannot be trusted.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Maybe so, but...

        @ThinkingMonkey

        Just like the never ending war on terror (terror of course being a normal feeling)

      2. anonymousI

        Re: Maybe so, but...

        Dead right, ThinkingMonkey; once the political class get a taste of power, they'll simply keep it.

        We should never forget that income tax was introduced in 1915 as a temporary wartime emergency measure...

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Maybe so, but...

          You've forgotten it was actually introduced during the Napoleonic Wars, then?

          1. anonymousI
            Facepalm

            Re: Maybe so, but...

            Yes, of course, I can remember it being introduced, now you've kindly reminded me.

            It's just that my memory isn't what it used to be, for some reason...

  9. Julz

    Confused

    How will anonymized data help in tracking individuals?

    1. John H Woods

      Re: Confused

      (ahem, taking it at face value) ... It's not for tracking individual users, it's for gathering statistics about the relative mobility of the population.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Confused

        I have many old SIM cards in old Android phones, no accounts, just Wi-Fi connections but they still connect to the mobile network and permit emergency calls so they are on the map for the corporate trackers and Google, each phone has a unique Google account so I guess it looks like I'm having a party.

        1. JetSetJim

          Re: Confused

          As long as nobody ever leaves, no-one will give a shit :) Party on, dude

  10. batfink Silver badge

    The usual solution...

    As usual with any kind of intrusive laws: let's see this applied to the politicians first, and let's make the output public. I'd guarantee that we'd see a lot of sudden back-pedalling.

    1. NightFox

      Re: The usual solution...

      Which would prove what, if you were planning on making something that wouldn't be public, public?

      1. batfink Silver badge

        Re: The usual solution...

        The point is that any information collected will never remain private. Once that is understood by those passing the laws, and it applies to their data, then we'll have a lot less of this surveillance-state bollocks.

    2. onemark03

      ... let's see this applied to the politicians first

      @ batfink

      Absolutely!

      I said the same thing about politicians and ID cards on ElReg a year or two ago.

      (But let's not get off-topic.)

  11. TheProf

    Phone isolation

    I left my phone in the house and then went out for a walk.

    Should I inform the government about my 5 km ramble?

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Phone isolation

      Are you wearing a fitbit or other tracker? Is so then relax, they are tracking you anyway.

  12. Peter Clarke 1

    More Panic Buying

    This time for old-style dumb phones with no geo-location hardware. See the flip-phone beloved by Gibbs in NCIS

    1. iGNgnorr

      Re: More Panic Buying

      "This time for old-style dumb phones with no geo-location hardware. See the flip-phone beloved by Gibbs in NCIS"

      As other posters have pointed out, a mobile 'phone's location can be triangulated from nearby cell masts. That's what allows a cellular network to connect to your 'phone. No need for GPS, no need for Wi-Fi location. No need for Bluetooth location. Just the mere fact it is a cellular 'phone and is switched on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: More Panic Buying

        >>Just the mere fact it is a cellular 'phone and is switched on.

        Just the mere fact it is a cellular 'phone and has a battery in it.

        Fixed that for you.. Spooks have always had the ability to turn on phones that are 'off'

        AC cos, well, you know...

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: More Panic Buying

        >As other posters have pointed out, a mobile 'phone's location can be triangulated from nearby cell masts.

        Yes and all they can track is the phone number of a bought-for-cash PAYG sim

        With a smart phone they (goverment/online ad agency) can tie that phone to your facebook profile, everyone you have ever received and email from and every website you ever visited.

    2. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: More Panic Buying

      It is not the lack of geolocation hardware, but removable battery. If you can't pull the battery out, you can't really turn your phone off.

  13. steviebuk Silver badge

    Aussie!

    "But Australia’s PM declares it doesn’t align with national values" but its OK to force back doors into encryption. Fucking idiots!

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Aussie!

      It's worse than that, it's full of xenophobic sentiment and "They WILL learn Australian values" jingoism (remember that this is the same country that responded to speeding tickets being overturned in court by evidence from a CSIRO scientist showing how badly the radar units had been setup by banning government scientists from giving evidence AND declaring that radar is infallible)

      My Australian relatives locked down early, so did a lot of people - but Bondi Beach and others show that Oz is as full of twats as the USA and UK when it comes to contagions. Things are likely to get quite bad.

      Time to Bring Out The Boot! (and apply it to the PM)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Aussie!

        "[...] Oz is as full of twats as the USA and UK when it comes to contagions."

        The Darwin effect may come into play - except it is the vulnerable who are at highest risk.

        I phoned my local pharmacy who were happy to add me to their "vulnerable" prescription delivery list.

        Next day the doorbell rang - and a Yodel bike courier said "prescription for you" while trying to hand the package to me at zero spacing. Fortunately I had stepped back to a safe distance as the door opened. He seemed puzzled when I said to drop it on the door mat.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Aussie!

          "The Darwin effect may come into play - except it is the vulnerable who are at highest risk."

          We're starting to see a few "young and healthy" get killed.

          I suspect wakeup alarms might now be ringing, but there's still a large element of "only happens to other people" mentality going on. (the same mindset as "rules are for other people")

  14. Peter Galbavy

    Giving our glorious and enlightened authorities the benefit of the doubt for the moment, mobile operators already collect many metrics on cell hand-offs and transit times etc. Sharing just this data, on volumes of movement, could help with a view as to how well the - effectively - voluntary lockdown is operating and how it is changing over time-of-day and day-of-week and could also act as an alert if the behaviour starts drifting as the population starts getting bored and complacent and then if further measure, especially in certain geographies, are required.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Big Boris is watching You.

      Most of my house/garden clocks are MSF radio synchronised. As I went to bed late - it was interesting to see them adjust in the minutes following 1am.

      If they ever change Daylight Saving - I expect the non-MSF central heating timer will still abide by whatever hardwired algorithm was programmed when it was made. So we would still have to adjust some clocks.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Big Boris is watching You.

      No. I did it about mid-morning of the Sunday because despite reminding myself the previouds evening, for the first time in about 40 years, I forgot. Luckily, most things in the house auto-update nowadays. Just my alarm clock, living room clock and central heating. The car still needs to be done.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Big Boris is watching You.

        My car is fine, after six months of being ... less fine.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hardly new

    "Several nations – among them Israel, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong"

    Who were already doing this for less public health orientated reasons....

    Well maybe when the ned's start getting fined and banged up people will mass facebook and tweet about the loss of their civil liberties</sarcasm>, cmon people feed the machine your privacy; its hungry and wants to know all about special you....

    1. David Shaw

      Re: Hardly new

      The country where I’m living mentioned recently that a local university built a mass monitoring tool for road/people tracking for helping the multitudes visiting expo2015.

      They’ve simply switched it back on again, (according to national radio news) as lockdown can Improve the Rnought transmission ratio, bring it below 2.5.

      The mass interception of persons private data continues, whether people are special or not. It’s nice to see it being used for something vaguely philanthropic.

  17. Pseu Donyme

    Color me confused

    There really isn't such a thing as anonymized location data on the individual level: in most cases looking at the locations where one usually spends the night (home) and the day (home, work, school, ...) will offer enough clues to identify one.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Color me confused

      >where one usually spends the night (home)

      Not if one is the prime minister

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Color me confused

        "Not if one is the prime minister"

        At least it would remind him where his likely offspring were begat.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Color me confused

          >At least it would remind him where his likely offspring were begat.

          Prime minister we have implemented "contact tracing".

          Cue PM jumping out of window

  18. Conundrum1885

    Re. phone tracking

    Actually there's any number of ways to effectively track a phone.

    I recently discovered a method using the faint acoustic signals from the switching power supply

    inside, even to the extent that it can track battery use.

    The detector can just be a simple piezo sounder originally intended for distance measurement but a modified tweeter from a TV can also be used.

    I manaded to pick up the weak signal from the base clock and this is a very effective method: even turning the phone off didn't silence it.

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