Japan Tracks Mobile Phone Users Via Fax (02/10/98; 1:11 p.m. EST) By Jeremy Scott-Joynt, Total Telecom Dodging work and having illicit love affairs is about to get more difficult, at least in Japan. NTT, the world's largest telecommunications carrier, is testing technology that lets the location of a mobile telephone be tracked using a fax-based service. NTT Central Personal Communications, the NTT subsidiary running a personal handyphone system (PHS) network in Tokyo, is running a trial that lets anyone with the telephone number and PIN code of a subscriber's handset receive a map by fax. The map contains a circle with a radius of between 100 and 500 meters, which shows the likely location of the phone, and, presumably, the user. The radius of the circle is dictated by the cell size, which, in PHS, is considerably smaller than a conventional cellular service thanks to smaller, lighter, and much shorter-range handsets. The trial, which will run from February until April, could be used by members of the same family, group, or organization to keep close track on the movements of colleagues, friends, and relatives. The technology does not have to be restricted to Japan's PHS system. Other cellular systems have the same capabilities, too. Network providers have been able to track their subscribers in emergency situations. Perhaps more controversially, networks can also track subscribers on behalf of law-enforcement agencies. Swisscom, Switzerland's main telecom operator, has admitted that its mobile telephone system has been used by Swiss police to track the movements of subscribers. All mobile networks by necessity keep a constant fix on every handset's location while the phone is on standby, so as to allow the delivery of incoming calls. NTT Central, however, is the first operator to offer location tracking as a mainstream service. Although the need for a PIN number means the service will mainly be used by businesses that issue PHS phones to employees, the move may still arouse fears about the move's privacy implications. NTT has been testing the technology since July last year, to have it ready by the Winter Olympics, which opened last week in Nagano. A locator service is being provided there for phones, such as the wristwatch-sized phones issued to members of the organizing committee.
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