"Fake Authorities" being allowed to track cell phones?

Okay, there’s a little noticed Reality Show going on called “Hunted”, in which teams of contestants are trying to stay on the run for 30 days to win a quarter million dollars. Against them are 32 (I think it was) hunters, all of whom worked for various police and spy type groups: FBI, CIA, military, cops of various levels, etc. supposedly using the actual resources and techniques those groups normally have access to.

The most recent episode has me wondering what limitations there are (if any?) on who can access the tracking information about your cell phone.

The situation is that the Hunters have learned a particular team have met up with a particular woman and she’s helping them travel and that woman’s sister gives the Hunters her sister’s telephone number which they then use to track her traveling about.

Note: the Hunters have zero actual authority. Regardless of what status they might have had in the past, or even be going back to later, right now they are purely civilians playing in a silly Reality Show game.

Also note: the woman in question was not part of the show. She was a random stranger met by one of the teams on the run and was talked into helping them. She is not suspected of committing any sort of crime.

And yet the telephone company is apparently happily handing over the information about her location?? Really?

I mean, I sort of figured cops/FBI/whatever could do this, but random civilians? And without the tiniest fig leaf to excuse the invasion of her privacy?

Probably social engineering - they probably made the phone company believe they had the legal right to that info. But i agree, that they were able to do it speaks poorly of that telco’s privacy practices.

Or, the whole thing was faked for TV, dunno, haven’t seen it.

I don’t watch, and don’t intend to, but I have to point out an inconsistency in your description. The highlighted portions.

If the “random stranger” was “talked into helping them”, it seems to me they’re “part of the show”. I would assume some TV production legalism was executed to clear their involvement.

As to cell phone tracking/interception technology, it’s not that terribly hard or expensive. It shouldn’t be in the hands of private citizens (which the “hunters” would probably be), but I’m not sure if there’s any law against it. Legal privacy protections usually only constrain government actors, not private citizens.

It’s fake. I think a key statement that gives it away can be found here:

“Bleks says: “In Hunted we replicate the powers of the State and what they’re able to do.”

It’s a game. The rules of the game likely state something along the lines of “If someone calls home, their location will be given to the Hunters to replicate the capabilities of the state”. The producers already know the exact location of all the contestants, the film crews have to stay with them.

Another way to accomplish this would be for the contestants to sign waivers giving permission for the cell phone companies to disclose that information. However, I think this is unnecessarily complicated considering they can just do what I explained above.

It’s like during military war games. There is a lot of technology, like signal jammers, which are not allowed to be used within the States. So, if a unit wants to use signal jammers, they just show that capability to the game controllers, and the opposing force has to turn off their radios or whatever.
Or, since the artillery is simulated, the counter-battery sensors can’t really detect anything. So, if there are counter-battery sensors available, that unit just needs to say “We’re using the counter-battery radar”, and the game controllers would then give that unit the origin location of the artillery. It’s all “replicated”. Just like, I suspect, the cell phone tracking in the TV Game Show.

Ooops. Silly of me – yes, the camera crew can just tell them, or maybe they have some sort of tracker.

I did realize that the camera crew was undoubtedly why the college boys were having so much success in talking strangers into helping them in various ways. Not much worry that you’re letting a Son of Sam bed down on your porch if there’s a camera crew filming the whole thing.

My wife and I have been watching and enjoying the American version of the show. There’s a disclaimer that says some of the footage is re-enactments, and we wondered just how much. Plus, we knew there were shenanigans afoot when the Hunters were able to get instant access to private CCTV at gas station. In real life, they would have at least had to contact the gas station, and that would have taken some time.

It’s fun to watch, though! You imagine what you would do yourself when thrust into the contestants’ situations. Like the Sun article says, there’s got to be more than a bit of agreed-upon cheating on the part of the Hunters.

The two Muslim fellows staying at the farm, for example, could have easily disappeared into the back 40 before the Hunters arrived to question the land owners, or even have hidden in the barn’s loft long enough to slip out unnoticed while the cops arranged for a search warrant.

The couple that owned the Airsoft shop had a good thing going for 15 days, camping completely unnoticed in the swamp, and probably could have held out there for the entire time, but the wife’s discomfort sank below an acceptable level and they were forced to surface.

I would put a large amount of money on this being Hollywood trickiery of some kind.

Using industry contacts to track a random cell phone without any legal authority to do so would absolutely be illegal (unauthorized access to computer system at least).

Convincing someone to install an app on their phone that tracks their position would be totally legal. So if the whole thing is not completely made up (very possible given what I’ve heard about reality shows), I suspect that might be what actually happened.

There are several commercially available cellphone tracking devices. Stingray is the most famous one.

Such devices are supposed to be FCC approved and available only to police. But when was the last thing ever made that didn’t end up in other hands or couldn’t be copied by someone else? (Especially with the vast Chinese electronics manufacturing industry.)

You can also get the phone records of someone (a friend or relative of the hider) by paying a few bucks to someone who has a “relationship” with a phone company employee. Such services are openly advertised on the Internet.