Location detection technologies

9.83 A number of technologies can provide real time information about the location of devices, and hence the location of users of the devices. The types of devices that can be located include mobile telephones, laptop computers, personal digital assistants and gaming consoles.[171] Location detection technologies, such as the global positioning system (GPS), are included as a standard feature in many new mobile telephones.

9.84 The accuracy of location information varies depending on the location detection technology used. For example, the GPS is a network of 24 satellites established and operated by the United States Department of Defense.[172] Each satellite emits a signal that can be detected by a receiver. The satellites are positioned so that a minimum of four can be detected simultaneously by a receiver anywhere on the Earth’s surface.[173] A receiver can determine its location with a high degree of accuracy by calculating the amount of time it takes for the signals emitted by the satellites to reach it.[174] Alternatively, the location of a mobile telephone can be determined with a moderate degree of accuracy by calculating the time a signal takes to receive three or more base stations.[175] Geo-location technologies can determine the location of an individual’s IP address with a degree of accuracy that, depending on source and circumvention factors, ranges from country to city to street level.[176]

9.85 Location detection technologies and other wireless technologies allow ‘location-based services’ to be provided to individuals.[177] There are many types of location-based services, including services that assist individuals to travel to particular locations; inform individuals about local conditions, such as traffic and weather conditions; provide individuals with information about goods or services in their immediate vicinity, and target advertising of goods and services to individuals on the basis of their location.[178]

9.86 Location detection technologies also may enhance service delivery by emergency services. Emergency call persons in Australia utilise subscriber information in the Integrated Public Number Database to determine the location of users of fixed telephone lines.[179] They are unable, however, to determine accurately the location of users of mobile telephones.[180] In the United States, mobile telephone providers are required to provide emergency call persons with precise information about the location of the mobile telephone used to call the emergency service.[181]

9.87 Location detection services enable the location of individuals to be determined in real time. Further, they generate records of the physical movements of individuals. For this reason, they have the potential to impact significantly on privacy. By analysing information about the location of an individual, a third party may derive or infer personal information about an individual, such as information about his or her consumer preferences or social activities.

9.88 The European Union Directive on privacy and electronic communications deals explicitly with ‘location data’ in the electronic communications sector.[182] Location data is defined as ‘any data processed in an electronic communications network, indicating the geographic position of the terminal equipment of a user of a publicly available electronic communications service’.[183] The Directive prohibits the processing of location data that has not been anonymised without the consent of the user of the service.[184] It also requires service providers to inform users, before obtaining their consent, of the type of location data to be processed, the purpose and duration of the proposed processing, and whether the data will be transmitted to a third party for the purpose of providing a value added service.[185] Users must be given the opportunity to withdraw their consent at any time to the processing of location data.[186] Further, processing of the data must be restricted to that which is necessary for the purposes of providing the value added service.[187] Location detection technologies are discussed further in Part J.

[171] S Benford, Future Location-Based Experiences (2005) Joint Information Systems Committee Technology and Standards Watch, 4.

[172] Australian Communications Authority, Location Location Location (2004), 32.

[173] Ibid, 32.

[174] Ibid, 33.

[175] Ibid, 31, 34.

[176] D Svantesson, Geo-identification—Now They Know Where You Live (2004) Bond University Faculty of Law, 2.

[177] S Benford, Future Location-Based Experiences (2005) Joint Information Systems Committee Technology and Standards Watch, 4.

[178] See, eg, Ibid, 4; M James, Where are You Now? Location Detection Systems and Personal Privacy (2004) Parliamentary Library—Parliament of Australia.

[179] Australian Communications Authority, Location Location Location (2004), 17. The Integrated Public Number Database is discussed in Part J.

[180] Ibid, 18.

[181] See Federal Communications Commission, Enhanced 911—Wireless Services (2006) <www.fcc.gov/
pshs/services/911-services/enhanced911/Welcome.html> at 24 April 2008.

[182] European Parliament, Directive Concerning the Processing of Personal Data and the Protection of Privacy in the Electronic Communications Sector, Directive 2002/58/EC (2002).

[183] Ibid, art 2.

[184] Ibid, art 9(1).

[185] Ibid, art 9(1).

[186] Ibid, art 9(1), (2).

[187] Ibid, art 9(3).