Cellphone tracking used to catch Boston bomber, local criminals

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, April 22, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- The whole world watched as police searched for the second suspect in the Boston bombings. A cellphone left behind in a hijacked car helped lead them to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's hiding spot.

Ed Deveau, chief of police in Watertown, says, "We were able to ping that phone and find out it was in Watertown, and it was heading in a certain neighborhood of Watertown."

Police can have cellphone companies ping cellphones, allowing them to find out how close to a certain cell tower the phone is. But, now, most phones come with built in GPS technology, making the signal much easier to track.

Just last week, local investigators used the same technology to track down a suspect in an Augusta murder.

It all started with a shooting that happened at Biltmore Place in south Augusta last Tuesday, killing a mother and injuring her two adult children.

Scanner chatter revealed that the police were tracking the suspect, Steve Lawrence Allen, on his cellphone.

Scanner traffic: "Download text messages and look at it, that way you'll know whether it's him or not ... download text messages and look at it, that way you'll know whether it's him or not ... Is he making calls or texting from it, or is it a possibility that he's turned it on?"

The search ended 100 miles away in Toombs County. But tracking your cellphone brings up privacy issues. On the one hand, it can be a great tool for catching criminals.

Lonzo Clark agrees, saying, "It's no big deal because you got nothing to hide. If you not hiding anything, it should all be all right."

Others, like Lauren Smith, say it borders on an invasion of privacy.

"We need to be careful how we use technology, and there's appropriate ways, and there's problematic ways," Smith said.

Benjamin Hutton agrees, saying, "I understand the urgency and the desire to be safe, but I also think in 20 to 30 years, we might look back and say to ourselves, that was kind of a bad idea."

It's a sticky issue because just last August, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement does not need a warrant to track your cellphone, but Congress has been tossing around a bill that would overturn that.

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