Can Cell Phones Be Tracked When Turned Off?

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The most common answer to this question is no. Traditional cell phone tracking applications do not have the capability of tracking cellular devices that are turned off.

Having said that, you will find plenty of conspiracy theorists who will tell you that the government can track a cell phone even if it is turned off. I’ve always thought that these folks were a bit nutty but not long ago I started wondering if it might actually be possible to track a cell phone that was in fact turned off.

Let me tell you what has been fueling my curiosity lately. I remembered a feature that had to to with my phone’s alarm. This doesn’t work with my current Android powered smartphone but I remember that on some of my old phones, the alarm would work even if the phone was turned off. I remember this because it was really nice when I found myself in situations where I couldn’t plug the phone in to charge overnight. I could set the alarm, turn the phone off and the alarm would still wake me up. This means that at least the clock function of the phone didn’t turn off when the phone was turned off.

I’ve heard of other people who had old Nokia phones that would actually ring when the the phone was “supposedly” turned off. The only way I could see this happening is if their phone didn’t actually completely power down when it was turned off. Instead, it would have to go into a low power “standby mode”.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that this line of thinking got me wondering if it might be possible for other cell phone features such as the GPS radio to be remain active even if the user has their phone turned off. If that were possible, then if would theoretically be possible for cell phone tracking software to determine the location of a cell phone even it it was turned off.

According to my logic, if this was actually possible, the software would have to fool the user into thinking that the phone actually powered down when they turned their phone off but instead it would go in to a low power mode that would make the phone appear to be off.

Does This Software Currently Exist For Consumer Use?

I’m not aware of any mobile phone tracking software that can actually do this that currently exists but it seems to me like it could be possible for someone to develop it.

On my smartphone, when I push the power button to turn my phone off, a little pop up message appears asking me if I want to power the phone off, put it in airplane mode, or restart it. If I keep pressing down on the power button, nothing happens. If I press the button again, the phone automatically goes in to sleep mode. The only way to turn the phone off is to tap the “Power Off” icon or physically remove the battery. This means that the power button doesn’t actually turn the phone off. It instead forces the phone’s OS to give me the three options. Choosing one of those options results in the phone shutting down.

Based on this logic, it would seem to me that it would be possible for some clever software developer to figure out a way to modify the software that controls the powering down sequence of the phone. I’m thinking that they could make it so that tapping the “Power Off” icon actually puts the phone in a low power mode that fools the user into thinking that their phone is turned off while still providing cell phone tracking functionality.

Proof Of Concept For Remotely Activated Cell Phone Tracking Software

Before you all start sending me emails telling me to stop wearing my tin foil hat and start living in reality, consider this. While I was digging into this matter a bit more, I came across an article on the popular website CNET News that was written all the way back in the year 2006. In this article, the author tells the story of how US Department of Justice officials have been given the green light by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan to use what they call “roving bugs”.

This “roving bug” technology actually makes it possible to remotely activate the phone’s microphone to turn it into a listening device. According to a document entitled Memorandum Opinion that appears to me to have been written by Judge Kaplan, these roving bugs can be activated whether the phone is turned on or off.

The author of the article on CNET later went on to say that according to court records, a roving bug is a listening device that can be installed in a cell phone which leaves the details of how this is done a bit cloudy. This could technically mean that software is installed on the phone that makes listening possible or that an actual piece of hardware is installed in the phone.

If these so called roving bugs were being used in 2006 (probably sooner than that), I’m quite certain that the technology has advanced considerably over the last six or so years.

What’s The Final Verdict Then?

I must admit that if you would have asked me whether it was possible to track a cell phone when it was turned off a few weeks ago, I would have told you that it wasn’t. Now, however, I’m less certain and I’m actually tending to believe that I could be possible now. If it’s not actually possible now, I imagine that it will be in the coming years. That being said, like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been able to find any apps that are currently available for consumers to use that make this possible.

With the issues that I have pointed out in this article in mind, it would seem that the only fail-safe way to prevent a phone from being tracked is to remove the battery entirely.

In the meantime, you may be interested in installing a free cell phone tracking application on your phone. They work very well and are commonly available.

What Are Your Thoughts On This Matter?

Let’s hear from you now. Do you think that it’s possible to track a cell phone that is turned off? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment in the form below!