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Carrying 'Big Brother' in Your Pocket
Your cell phone may be telling a suspicious loved one or boss what you're up to
Jennifer Park (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-07-28 17:48 (KST)   
Have you ever wished that you could keep an eye on someone 24/7 without hiring a private investigator? But then again, would you want to be monitored in the same way? Whether you like the idea or not, 21st century technology makes this possible. Here are some case studies from Korea.

Case 1

©2004 KTF
After "Suyeon" subscribed her boyfriend's cell phone number to a location based service (LBS) without his knowledge, she was set to trace her boyfriend block by block. As long as he keeps his phone on standby mode, she can spy on him to her heart's content.

Supposedly, her boyfriend was alone. What was her boyfriend doing "alone" in Juliana, the most popular Seoul nightclub in the area, on a Friday night? With KTF's virtual map, Suyeon's new lie detector, her boyfriend was busted.

LBS did not start out as an infidelity-buster. It was a tool for police in kidnapping cases. LBS reached a new level of accuracy when the global positioning system (GPS), a measuring device estimating an object's time and distant through satellite, was introduced. GPS presents a detailed map of significant landmarks to within 10 meters of the carrier's vicinity.

SK Telecom, KTF, and LG Telecom started LBS, dubbed "search friend," for ordinary citizens, making it possible to locate anyone possessing a cell phone. This service can be used on any cell phone regardless of its company. The fee ranges from 50 to 80 won (4 to 7 cents) per location search.

When it was released for public use, these telecommunications corporations had to strengthen their security base. And in order to protect people's privacy, the "search friend" service requires both parties' consent. It must also go through mutual validation to activate the service.

But then there are people like Suyeon who are sneaky enough to bypass the procedure. With a little time and effort, it is possible to identify and enter the necessary PIN code into a cell phone carrier's web browser. It takes just one person with furtive skills to easily accomplish this "mutual" validation.

Ironically, "search friend," which was intended to give couples peace of mind and prevent crimes, has the potential to sow seeds of discord and result in new kinds of high-tech crime. Suyeon's spying mission, which invaded her boyfriend's privacy, is only a mild example.

Case 2

A recent scandal at Samsung SDI involving illegal corporate surveillance shows an even darker side to LBS.

©2004 KTF
Twenty-two civic groups verified that Samsung SDI has been using the "search friend" service to track down their employees that were trying to set up a labor union.

At a press conference on Samsung's inquiry into worker surveillance, these groups confirmed that nine Samsung workers were subjected to surveillance by hacking their cell phones.

When it came to light that Samsung had done some illegal location surveillance, they sued seven managers for violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Kim Chil Jun, the employees' attorney tells that one Samsung former employee whose last name is Lee found out about the illegal usage of LBS while searching for the reason for her exceptionally high phone bill. KTF listed the "search friend" service as the reason for her high phone bill. She did not even know what "search friend" service was.

According to the detailed list of calls provided by KTF, nine Samsung employees were traced 325 times over three months. All outgoing services made from Lee's cell phone originated from Suwon.

Kim says since Lee resided in Busan, someone had to illegally hacked Lee's cell phone to track down Samsung employees. Given that 10 SK Telecom users were under surveillance in this way, Samsung must have conducted systematic search of location with Suwon as its base.

The following is Kim's explanation in a written indictment:
"There are two ways of subscribing to KTF's search friend service. It can be done through wireless Internet Magic-N on an individual cell phone and wired Internet Magic-N. Whichever method is used, by subscribing after entering one's cell phone number or social security number, the confirmation number is sent as a text message. It can only be activated through one's cell phone.

The suspect found a certain cell phone's hexa code, its identification number, and used it to illegally duplicate the appellants' cell phone, and used it to subscribe to "search friend" service.

Samsung holds its oblivious position. Samsung staff stated that "We are also curious as to who did such a thing; the truth will surface soon since it is under investigation."
Rising cases of invasion of privacy have compelled prosecutors to make sure that communications companies raise their level of security. Corporations have made it harder for the identification number to be exposed, but the intentions of the subscribers should be more carefully examined.

Even five years ago, cell phones were considered high-tech as long as they had fair connections. There were no wireless Internet connections, let alone ones with digital cameras. Advanced technology satisfies humans' desire to know detailed information about someone they care about -- but it cannot be entirely trusted. As the technology evolved, the thin line that existed between public and private became blurred.

As of last year, 2 million have subscribed to the "search friend" service, and this number is predicted to double this year. Hopefully, this service will not turn millions of people into stalkers or "criminals," and that our loved ones will trust us rather than resort to the "search friend" service.
Jennifer Park is an OhmyNews intern and will begin her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University this fall.
©2004 OhmyNews

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