Illustration: Michael Mucci Illustration: Michael Mucci
 
Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a mobile phone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all mobile phone networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people's travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

The world's most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency in the US and Britain's GCHQ, have long used mobile phone data to track targets around the globe.

But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation with relative ease and precision.

Users of such technology type a phone number into a computer portal, which then collects information from the location databases maintained by mobile phone carriers, company documents show.

In this way, the surveillance system learns which tower a target is currently using, revealing his or her location to within a few blocks in an urban area or a few kilometres in a rural one.
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