Federal Laws Regarding Phone Tracking

I read somewhere a while back that the US has enacted federal laws that require phone manufacturers to have always-on GPS tracking. I know for sure that the stupid “Presidential Alerts” with the “off button” greyed-out (forcing that feature to be on all of the time, whether or not you want it on), is a US federal law. So the question is this: what happens if Purism is suddenly told by the federal government that they can’t sell phones in the US that have a kill switch that allows the phone owner to disable tracking of the phone owner’s location? In such a case, all of a sudden one day, it’s game-over for privacy and for Purism’s business model.

Some people say “it’ll never happen. I live in a free country”. Things are changing rapidly these days. One day something is labeled a “crazy conspiracy theory”. Six months later it actually happens. The next virus will come along and the legislature will say that “contact tracing” or “social credit monitoring” supercedes any rights to privacy.

Actually, they probably won’t even feel the need to justify it. The law will be passed. Most people won’t care, and it’ll be a done deal. As long as their video games still work and as long as someone if fighting for a Universal Basic Income, life is good (not).

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I am honestly not trying to be argumentative here, but starting a post this way is not the best way to start a discussion that will yield useful information. I share your concerns about this sort of thing, and hate that even the grayed-out Presidential Alert function is now missing from my current incarnation of Android (implying that it’s now built-in). However, “somewhere” and “federal laws” are sufficiently vague that we really can’t discuss this. Do you have the particular US law or bill under consideration that we can discuss? Any competent news source will make reference to the name/number of the bill or law it is discussing.


Another reason to love Calyx


Easy enough to find. The virtues of the system are touted as having a need to provide accurate information to 911.

So theoretically, you could use your Librem 5 with the GPS turned off (kill switch for GPS not even needed) to call the police or 911, tell them this is a prank call, tell them to f-off, and dare them to try to catch you if they can. Then you could hang up, consequence free. According to the article, this capability is what the FCC is trying to prevent. Just make sure your number and SIM information are hidden too.

I see need or desire to use a Librem 5 for nefarious purposes. But if you want to maintain legal compliance, it’s a violation of law right now (apparently), just to turn your GPS off, ever. Most manufacturers just do everything the law requires. Will Purism ever be told by the government that they have to prevent the GPS on the phone being turned off by the phone owners? All the FCC has to do is just revoke the FCC certification if Purism refuses to comply.

If that happened they may be inclined to go ahead and triangulate off the cell towers.


I wonder if the legal burden of compliance is on the phone manufacturer or on the cell phone service provider. The next step would be for the cell phone service provider to not accept non-compliant phones on to their network, and to require of the manufacturer that they remove that GPS on/off control from user control as a condition of compliance. Of course, with opensource code running on the phone, the service provider could place the burden back on Purism. This would likely result in either a lawsuit, or in the FCC deciding who needs to be the one to comply. Either way, if the government wants to track you badly enough, they will force all GPS tracking to stay active all of the time.

By the time things get this far, the government has to tip its hand about what their motive is. Do they only care about tracking you while you are on an active phone call? Or do they demand to track you all of the time? Because there is also that modem kill switch. Will the government want to take away your access to that switch also? Right now, this issue isn’t even a big enough issue to show up on anyone’s radar. But if enough people circumvent Google and Apple’s lockouts by going with Purism, then what? The law was passed for some reason.

Or take a dump. (Ref: Prior post in another thread).

Look, I’m sorry, but the link in the post is broken, the post itself is over 10 years old and describes a document that is basically meeting minutes about what they might want to do, and it affects cell providers, NOT manufacturers. I can’t see that what is being talked about here is even policy, much less established law. If we want to actually discuss this rule, we need to know the rule, and I there’s nothing here to support the assertion that it is in any way illegal to turn off your GPS, combined with the fact that you could always (marketing aside) assert that the Librem 5 is not a cell phone.

To be clear, I in no way am saying this to assert that the federal government, through short-sighted overreach, incompetence, or the corrrupt self-interest of an individual, may not want or happen to push a policy that causes it to be illegal to turn off your GPS. I just don’t see any evidence of that here.

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The date on the article is from 2011. But the date referenced in the article as a deadline is 2019. The link couldn’t be broken since the photograph from the article is embedded here in this chain and we can see that picture. So the link works. My main point is that legislative action is very close to making dangerous changes to our society. It’s not much of a stretch to believe that it’s likely to happen. Those who don’t want to discuss how that might occur shouldn’t claim the link is broken and that nothing is proven as a means to deal with the unfortunate situation that approaches. It’s more productive to offer other viewpoints that either agree or disagree, based on other information that you rely on. We’re not attempting to prove a thesis arguement here. So you don’t need a bunch of peer reviewed information to be credible.

Why aren’t such things left to the users to observe.
When I buy a kitchen knife, I as a user have to take care to use it for cooking and not for killing people. The knife manufacturers are not obligated to produce knifes that cannot kill humans but can cut food.
For me it is same with hardware. The hardware should be flexible and free. And if the state requires GPS, then it should be responsibility of the user. And if the user does not comply they can chase and fine him/her.

The FCC clarified that cell phone are not required to have GPS, but the carriers must provide the geolocation data (GPS or cell tower location). Here is the testing that followed the 2011 ruling:

Here is the text for the FCC rule on 911 geolocation requirements, which was enacted in 2015:
Here is the FCC fact sheet on this ruling:

Here is an article talking about how cellular carriers are illegally giving people’s geolocation info to bounty hunters.(worth reading if you care about privacy):

Here is an FCC ruling from 2019 that requires carriers to also provide vertical geolocation data so emergency responders can find the location of the caller in a multi-story building:

See the FCC fact sheet:

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Define “competent news source”.


What’s stopping you from calling 911, turning off your phone or putting it in a Faraday bag? Are they going to make Faraday bags illegal now?


Oh but if you own a gun they want to make gun manufacturers liable for what their users do with them. Everything has an agenda that is justified by “keeping you safe”. That should raise alarms whenever the government says this to you.

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I think you’re slightly missing StevenR’s point (with which I agree) that the state should not have the power to compel you to carry a tracking device.


I meant the link IN the article to the original FCC source document is broken (https://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0712/DOC-308377A1.pdf). @amosbatto did a great job finding the FCC links. I just wanted to know exactly what we were discussing. Nothing I read supports your initial assertion that the FCC will “require phone manufacturers to have always-on GPS tracking.” Because I agree that this would be a really bad thing, I just wanted to know where you were getting the information. I was looking for source material, not peer-reviewed material.

Separately, the source material does point to a problem that I think should be addressed, and I’m not exactly sure how to do this either, it’s frustrating. My feeling about what I’m reading is that it’s the result of big data companies that make phones (Apple/Google) wanting to ensure that they have the finest-grain information on users that their hardware can get, and they’re using their influence in the federal government to compel the carriers to provide the infrastructure to do this (I doubt the carriers mind much, since they also make lots of money on user data).

I agree, I just add that EVEN if we have to carry a device with GPS, the control over the device should be in the user.

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Makes me wonder if Executive Order 12333 (+55) also applies to telemetry?

I did not read the thread so this has already been posted but under federal law the baseband must able to be remotely “activated” in emergency situations. Activated may not be technically or legally the right word but similar. Earthquakes, terrorist attacks, etc first responders use it to help locate bodies and potential survivors even when the device is not working or turned on.

If you really want to not be tracked while yet being reachable, you could carry an old style pager. When a pager alerts you, the sending network has no clue where you are located. Yet you receive the page which is broadcast throughout the whole network. When you receive the message, you have a choice of going from lock down mode on your Librem 5, to turning on the radio on your Librem 5 and making a return phone call. So your location is then only tracked when you choose to allow your location to be tracked on a call-by-call basis. Likewise, you only turn on the GPS when you choose to navigate to a location. So whether you’re making a phone call or navigating to a new location, your tracking footprint is almost zero, is disclosed by your own choice on a case by case, and is extremely incomplete. Will the government accept this?