Basically the title, can a simple telephone call be traced back to my location like seen in the common movies, and if so, what are the ways to prevent this from happening?

  • 3
    yes- by triangulating the cell towers you used – schroeder May 9 '17 at 20:11
  • 5
    Landline phone calls can simply be traced back by asking the provider about the owner the number. Mobile phone tracking is possible by logging which cell towers you're associating yourself with. – Arminius May 9 '17 at 20:11
  • You can put you cellphone inside a Faraday Cage blocking every signal. – Azteca May 9 '17 at 20:31
  • @Azteca but then you wouldn't be able to make nor receive any call. – A. Darwin May 9 '17 at 20:36
  • 1
    tor + google voice? – CaffeineAddiction May 9 '17 at 21:16

Yes, there are many ways to find a cellphone in use, the most common and old is triangulation (measuring distance from at least 3 cell towers) as you were pointed out in the comments, this is done obviously by the service provider.

One way to prevent this would be to block all signals (antennae) by putting the cellphone inside a Faraday Cage like a microwave (Talking about movies, Snowden 2016 he did it while they were interviewing him), but this would render useless the phone, unless it's a smartphone you can still use it like as if it were in "Airplane mode".

Then there's also Satellite Navigation antennae (GPS-US, Glonass-Russia, Galileo-EU and BeiDou-2-China). Most smartphones have GPS and Glonass, but still these are antenae that work on 1.2 - 1.6 GHz


For the telephone network provider, yes, this is one of the basic capability needed to do so the network provider can bill the customer properly. For government/authorities, yes, with the cooperation of the telephone network provider for which they can issue warrants or by oppressive governments they could require network provider to log calls to a government datacenter or illicitly via national security letters.

For general public, this is much more limited. There are databases of phone numbers to location, but this capability is limited unless they can hack into the provider's network management system.

There are differences in the accuracy for landline and cell tower geolocation. Since landline are registered in a specific place, it's trivial to track the location of callers just by cross-checking the caller with the customer database. For cell tower, the network provider can always trace rough location (up to the cell tower location), but beyond that would require a cell tower triangulation capability, which not all providers have the capability to do so.

For VoIP, the network provider can trace up to the VoIP provider's entry point, but beyond that you'd need the VoIP's network provider's cooperation to trace the caller's location by their IP address, and the caller's ISP to map the IP address to an actual location.

With all technologies, it's possible to have proxies to route your calls/VoIP packets via another location. In this case, it'd require that the proxy provider's cooperation as well to locate the real source of a caller.

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