Location Based Services – Patent Infringement and Privacy


Location Privacy Patent

On May 16, 2008, a California District Court found Sprint Nextel Corporation liable for infringement of two patents to the tune of $2.78 million in damages. The patents, owned by intellectual property-holding company Enovsys LCC, relate to a system designed to protect the disclosure of a cell phone’s precise location.

Source: GPS World (May 21, 2008)


Location-Based Services Privacy Best Practices

On a related note, CITA – the Wireless Association announced its Best Practices and Guidelines for Location-Based Services (LBS), which encourages Location-Based Service (LBS) Providers to promote and protect  customers’ location privacy. Specifically, these guidelines focus  on user notice and consent:

LBS Providers must inform users about how their location information will be used, disclosed and protected so that a user can make an informed decision whether or not to use the LBS or authorize disclosure; [and,]

[O]nce a user has chosen to use an LBS, or authorized the disclosure of location information, he or she should have choices as to when or whether location information will be disclosed to third parties and should have the ability to revoke any such authorization.

While these guidelines provide examples of how the above two tasks might be accomplished, they unfortunately provide almost no discussion of the physical, technical, and administrative safegaurds needed once this data is collected. The possible privacy impact of data of long-term retention and storage is not discussed. 


Location Tracking

Peter Batty, in his blog geothought (June 14, 2007), asked hypothetically:

As location tracking becomes increasingly pervasive, in particular through location aware phones, defining appropriate policies and law in the area of privacy will be very important. For example, if you are in a car accident, should the police and/or your insurance company be able to access information from your phone (or the GPS system in your car) which could show them whether you were speeding or not? There are a lot of complex issues in this area, with no easy answers.

Kevin Pomfret, in his post But Do You Have A Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy With Your Cell Phone? (June 25, 2007), replies:

There have been a number of recent cases involving the attempted use by the government to use the specific and articulable facts standard in the Stored Communications Act to collect spatial data associated with electronic transmissions. …Specifically, the government has tried to use Section 2703(c) to collect “a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber to or a customer of such service”. In [these] three instances the government was attempting to use the reasonable grounds standard under Section 2703(d) of the Act in order to obtain cell site data to track a customer’s location in real or near real time rather than the higher probable cause standard that would be required to obtain approval to use a more standard tracking device to monitor a suspect’s movements. However, in each case the court found that the government needed to have probable cause in order to compel disclosure of the cell tower data.

Visit Kevin’s Spatial Law blog for more analysis on this topic!


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