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Thread: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

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    The very model of a modern Moderator Xiahou's Avatar
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    Default Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Big Brother in your cel
    Suppose I approached you with a request. I want you to carry a small gadget that will automatically transmit your location to the police, allowing them to track your every movement 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Chances are you would politely decline.

    Too late. You already accepted.
    Normally I'd dismiss this sort of thing as conspiracy nuttery, but this is in the Chicago Tribune as opposed to the ravings of some nut on a blog. I always knew that, technically, it's possible to be tracked by your cell phone, but I always assumed that it was something that didn't happen often- and when it did, it required a warrant. But, apparently, it's very common and does not require a warrant.
    They don't have to get a search warrant — which would limit them to situations where they can show some reason to think you're breaking the law. All they have to do is tell a judge that the information is relevant to a criminal investigation and send a request to your service provider.

    This does not appear to be an uncommon event. Al Gidari, an attorney for several service providers, told Newsweek they now get "thousands of these requests per month."
    I think anyone who tracked my movements would quickly get bored, but nonetheless, I am uncomfortable with how easy it is to do so. Anyone else think this is a problem?
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    Master of Few Words Senior Member KukriKhan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    What do you have to hide, Comrade? :)

    Seriously though, my 'expectation of privacy' while operating what is essentially a radio (although we think of it as a telephone, with secure lines, etc) over public airwaves is zero.

    My land-line phone = another thing entirely.
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by KukriKhan View Post
    What do you have to hide, Comrade? :)

    Seriously though, my 'expectation of privacy' while operating what is essentially a radio (although we think of it as a telephone, with secure lines, etc) over public airwaves is zero.

    My land-line phone = another thing entirely.
    I think this shows you have a better grasp of the realities of the technology.
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    L'Etranger Senior Member Banquo's Ghost's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    I think it is a serious problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by KukriKhan View Post
    Seriously though, my 'expectation of privacy' while operating what is essentially a radio (although we think of it as a telephone, with secure lines, etc) over public airwaves is zero.
    You should have a much higher expectation of privacy, then. The basic rule of thumb should be that the private citizen has comprehensive rights to his privacy (over-ruled only by a warrant subject to severe scrutiny by a judge) whereas the government should have virtually no rights of privacy and should be, by default, transparent and accountable in almost every measure to the citizen.

    Somehow, we have allowed our governments to turn this right on its head. Without so much as a whimper. All it has taken is a few lurid tales of the bogeyman.
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    All they have to do is tell a judge that the information is relevant to a criminal investigation and send a request to your service provider.
    I think he's glossing over this a bit. I would think they have to convince the judge.

    Several service providers get thousands a month...not sure how many that is given the total population.

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    Arena Senior Member Crazed Rabbit's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    I think he's glossing over this a bit. I would think they have to convince the judge.
    That is surprisingly easy.

    And yes; this is way wrong, goes against the rights of citizens, and should be stopped. Never easy to wrest freedoms out of the jaws of governments though.

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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Crazed Rabbit View Post
    That is surprisingly easy.
    How do you know that? And is it easy because they say "hey look, this guy has been arrested 5 times and we have a picture of him buying something from a guy on a corner", and not "hey dude, mind if we follow CR around for kicks, thanks a million man"?

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    Master of Few Words Senior Member KukriKhan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Banquo's Ghost View Post
    I think it is a serious problem.



    You should have a much higher expectation of privacy, then. The basic rule of thumb should be that the private citizen has comprehensive rights to his privacy (over-ruled only by a warrant subject to severe scrutiny by a judge) whereas the government should have virtually no rights of privacy and should be, by default, transparent and accountable in almost every measure to the citizen.

    Somehow, we have allowed our governments to turn this right on its head. Without so much as a whimper. All it has taken is a few lurid tales of the bogeyman.
    I take your point, and concede that I may have been unknowingly duped by propaganda. OBL used to communicate via SatPhone, until some media bigmouth blabbed about it, and how DoD used it to track him. He, like we cel phone users, have no expectation of privacy when using that particular technology; it's no different than using a Citizen's Band Radio - to which anyone with a receiver can listen... or even a backwater internet gamer's off-topic forum - anyone can register and "listen in", from gamers, to police, to terrorists, to parents to children.

    Our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, IMO, does not apply to cel phones, becauste it is not unreasonable for anyone to pluck signals out of the public air. If signal scrambling & unscrambling technology got more widespread, thereby demonstrating the users' and receivers' intent to privacy, THEN I think we'd have a case to justify outrage. An analogy might be the envelope-encased letter vs the postcard. The envelope demonstrates my desire to protect the contents of the letter, whereas a postcard offers no such protection - and none is sought (obviously) by the sender.
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    Needs more flowers Moderator drone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by KukriKhan View Post
    Our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, IMO, does not apply to cel phones, becauste it is not unreasonable for anyone to pluck signals out of the public air. If signal scrambling & unscrambling technology got more widespread, thereby demonstrating the users' and receivers' intent to privacy, THEN I think we'd have a case to justify outrage. An analogy might be the envelope-encased letter vs the postcard. The envelope demonstrates my desire to protect the contents of the letter, whereas a postcard offers no such protection - and none is sought (obviously) by the sender.
    I think you are missing a technical point. It isn't the phone conversation that is being "tapped", it is the cell phone's location (and thus supposedly the owner of the phone) that is being recorded by the cell phone company and given to the police. The phone location is recorded based on both the built-in GPS and the cell tower it connects to as the owner moves around. This information is sent and recorded regardless of whether the person is talking on it.
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    Iron Fist Senior Member Husar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    So all cellphones with a GPS system have a preinstalled backdoor "virus" that allows the cellphone provider to access it and get the location back?
    I know an app for the iPhone to track it when it's stolen BUT the thief has to open it (it hides as an app with girls in it) for it to retrieve the location and email it to the owner, triangulation or just looking what tower it's currently connected with is another thing but I doubt they can just get remote access to the GPS to get an exact location.


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    Member Member Boohugh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Better stop going outside then as your position can get tracked by all those CCTV cameras too, if the authorities so choose (and I doubt they even need to ask a judge to do that!).

    In any case, it isn't a situation where all your movements all the time are constantly transmitted to the police, they'd only ask to track you if they had a reason to so, unless you actually are doing something illegal, then you have nothing to worry about in my opinion.

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    L'Etranger Senior Member Banquo's Ghost's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by KukriKhan View Post
    I take your point, and concede that I may have been unknowingly duped by propaganda. OBL used to communicate via SatPhone, until some media bigmouth blabbed about it, and how DoD used it to track him. He, like we cel phone users, have no expectation of privacy when using that particular technology; it's no different than using a Citizen's Band Radio - to which anyone with a receiver can listen... or even a backwater internet gamer's off-topic forum - anyone can register and "listen in", from gamers, to police, to terrorists, to parents to children.

    Our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, IMO, does not apply to cel phones, becauste it is not unreasonable for anyone to pluck signals out of the public air. If signal scrambling & unscrambling technology got more widespread, thereby demonstrating the users' and receivers' intent to privacy, THEN I think we'd have a case to justify outrage. An analogy might be the envelope-encased letter vs the postcard. The envelope demonstrates my desire to protect the contents of the letter, whereas a postcard offers no such protection - and none is sought (obviously) by the sender.
    Again, I think I would disagree.

    Unlike Citizen's Band radio, cellphones use encrypted signals. There is an expected restriction on the availability of the information being sent. At least in most European countries, the law prohibits ordinary citizens from using technology to crack into wireless telecommunications like cellphones. The information is not considered public access, any more than one's wireless internet.

    Therefore it is entirely unreasonable for anyone to pluck signals of this kind out of the air, without explicit permission. Just because it is possible to do, does not make it legal to do. Your letter/postcard analogy does not quite fit, but if I extend it to my argument, CB radio is the postcard (explicit permission through use of open media) your cellphone is the letter. No-one has the right to open your mail (without a strict warrant) even though it is a simple act so to do, and to hide. What prevents people rifling one's mail? The law and a widespread acceptance of the rights of privacy.

    I would be outraged if the government routinely opened my mail and I am similarly exercised about proposals to tap into my communications. Note that even "landlines" often utilise radio communications over long distances - would this then make them fair game the moment your conversation hit the satellite?
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    Master of Few Words Senior Member KukriKhan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    We don't disagree often, and drone's observation above began nagging me. So I had a re-think, to see if and how I'd maybe gone wrong. And it hit me: broadband vs narrowband:

    To operate a communications device (almost) anywhere requires a license from a gov't agency - including American CB radios, until the late 1970's when our FCC suspended CB licensing due to being swamped by applications they hadn't the manpower to process. But the point remains: if you're gonna broadcast to any and all receivers on the public air, you have to be authorized to do so, to insure transmission competence, and impose fair usage user rules of that public asset. No expectatyion of privacy.

    Cell phones require no such licensure, because the transmission is narrowband, intended to establish a transmit-receive transaction from a single device to another single device, not broadcast to the entire world. Thereby implying the 'expectation of privacy', thereby invoking the 4th Amndmt protection against unreasonable s&s.

    Law enforcement therefore must get a 4th A-over-riding warrant from a proper judicial authority to monitor either actual traffic or even the existance and location of a device.

    In other words: I was wrong, and am now against warrantless searching of cell phone records, locations or transmissions.

    Thanks fellas, for entertaining my objections.
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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    FWIW, when we moved to rural WI, one of our neighbors ran a complete police search on us, just 'cause she's an officer and she could. Found out about it years later. Asked her, "How is that legal?" She shrugged, and said, "It wasn't. I did it anyway."

    Our kids are friends, and I find it impossible to dislike her, but casual violations of privacy like that really tick me off. Likewise, police should show a judge reasonable cause before tracking your location via cell signal. We don't want to voluntarily live in a glasshouse.
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    Needs more flowers Moderator drone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Husar View Post
    So all cellphones with a GPS system have a preinstalled backdoor "virus" that allows the cellphone provider to access it and get the location back?
    I know an app for the iPhone to track it when it's stolen BUT the thief has to open it (it hides as an app with girls in it) for it to retrieve the location and email it to the owner, triangulation or just looking what tower it's currently connected with is another thing but I doubt they can just get remote access to the GPS to get an exact location.
    IIRC, The GPS part of it was sold as a locator for the 911 emergency service. Even back then I knew it would get abused like this. Many phones have a menu option to turn off the GPS, except for 911 calls, but I'm not sure the switch actually does anything. Without the GPS, the phone's general location can be determined via the cell tower connections. I'm not sure how fine the location fix is though, but it will give a rough neighborhood guess.

    I don't think the problem is the phone company knowing where you are. They need to have this info for billing purposes (roaming charges, etc.). The problem is the long-term storage. This data should be dropped after a short number of billing cycles.

    The lesson here is: if you are going to commit a crime or do anything illicit, leave your personally traceable cell phones at home.
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    L'Etranger Senior Member Banquo's Ghost's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by drone View Post
    The lesson here is: if you are going to commit a crime or do anything illicit, leave your personally traceable cell phones at home.
    Amazingly, most criminals and terrorists have also worked that out. Which rather makes government intrusion into the citizenry's private communications a bit pointless.

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    Old Town Road Senior Member Strike For The South's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    FWIW, when we moved to rural WI, one of our neighbors ran a complete police search on us, just 'cause she's an officer and she could. Found out about it years later. Asked her, "How is that legal?" She shrugged, and said, "It wasn't. I did it anyway."
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    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Boohugh View Post
    Better stop going outside then as your position can get tracked by all those CCTV cameras too, if the authorities so choose (and I doubt they even need to ask a judge to do that!).

    In any case, it isn't a situation where all your movements all the time are constantly transmitted to the police, they'd only ask to track you if they had a reason to so, unless you actually are doing something illegal, then you have nothing to worry about in my opinion.
    The classic pro-surveillance argument. "You have nothing to worry about, citizen! Or are you perhaps a *gasp* Communist?"

    Until someone gets a special one-way ticket to a Moroccan dungeon because the authorities wrongly linked together a bunch of completely unrelated things that, however, look suspicious together. And don't even get me started on the privacy aspect.
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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Thought this was common knowledge, yeah they can track your mobile phone, even when it's turned of.

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    Senior Member Senior Member gaelic cowboy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Didn't they use mobile phones to bug the UN that time before the push on ole resolution 1441 if i remember correctly it came out later they were able to bug the place using the mobile even turned off somehow
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    Vindicative son of a gun Member Jolt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fragony View Post
    Thought this was common knowledge, yeah they can track your mobile phone, even when it's turned of.
    That is impossible. The only way they can track is either through a call (Where the transmission information packages are coming from) or through GPS. If your Cell Phone is off, the GPS isn't working, which means you can't be tracked by your cell phone.
    BLARGH!

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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    A note of technical sense: a mobile that is powered down (as opposed to in deep sleep) isn't going to do anything excepting lying there. Outrage over BigBrother Govt is all well and good but you can take it too far.

    And on a note of Wireless internet. To give it a spin: http://samy.pl/mapxss/
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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jolt View Post
    That is impossible. The only way they can track is either through a call (Where the transmission information packages are coming from) or through GPS. If your Cell Phone is off, the GPS isn't working, which means you can't be tracked by your cell phone.
    Believe it's still in contact with cell-phone masts and they can calculate proximity, that's what I heard at least.

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    Iron Fist Senior Member Husar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    FWIW, when we moved to rural WI, one of our neighbors ran a complete police search on us, just 'cause she's an officer and she could. Found out about it years later. Asked her, "How is that legal?" She shrugged, and said, "It wasn't. I did it anyway."
    Well, what if she were a computer owner and gave you a self-burned DVD And then you "Asked her, "How is that legal?" She shrugged, and said, "It wasn't. I did it anyway." "? Would you also be shocked at her disregard for the law? IMO it's both a behaviour of the "if it benefits me and I can get away with it, I'll do it against the law"-type. In both cases noone got physically harmed, right? I'm not defending her, I just think it's an attitude thing that is present in a whole lot of people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fragony View Post
    Believe it's still in contact with cell-phone masts and they can calculate proximity, that's what I heard at least.
    It's in contact to a cellphone mast when it is turned on but you're not calling anyone, if it weren't it couldn't show you signal quality or anything(IIRC it sort of reserves a "slot" at the tower, or maybe it only does when you call someone), but when you turn it off, it's off.


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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Husar View Post
    Well, what if she were a computer owner and gave you a self-burned DVD And then you "Asked her, "How is that legal?" She shrugged, and said, "It wasn't. I did it anyway." "? Would you also be shocked at her disregard for the law? IMO it's both a behaviour of the "if it benefits me and I can get away with it, I'll do it against the law"-type. In both cases noone got physically harmed, right? I'm not defending her, I just think it's an attitude thing that is present in a whole lot of people.
    A bit of a sidetrack, but this isn't really how people decide things, although cheating is an almost universal tendency. For example, if you give people a 20 question math test and 5 minutes to do it, they get 4 right on average and thus get 4 dollars. If you let them scrunch the test up and tell you how many they got right, all of a sudden they are getting 7 right on average rather than 4. But if you change the amounts to 10 cents per correct question or 10 dollars per correct question, they average they say they got right is still around 7. So it's not as simple as "if I can get away with it, and it benefits me". People are still going to have to look at themselves in the mirror, so they won't cheat to the point where they feel bad. And if you have them sign a statement on the test like "I promise to uphold the honor code..." they don't cheat.

    Other findings are that if you give them tokens for correct answers, and then have them trade the tokens for dollars, cheating goes up. People feel less dishonest about cheating for tokens rather than dollars, even when they tokens are traded for dollars on the other side of the room. In one variation they gave everyone an envelope with 20 dollars and told them to give back 15 dollars if they got 5 right, for example. Then they had an actor stand up 30 seconds into the test and say "I'm finished what do I do?" and the researcher said "you can go". This makes it very obvious that you can get away with it. But again it doesn't follow the simple formula. The study took place at carnegie mellon, if the actor was wearing a carnegie mellon t-shirt cheating went up, if he was wearing a university of pittsburgh t-shirt then cheating went down.

    ***********************

    How all this relates to privacy--not exactly clear. I think it argues against the tinfoil hat scenario of everyones data being monitored for no reason--it's more likely that the people with the power will abuse it to the point where they don't feel bad about themselves. But then they could have an environment where they have to follow orders.

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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    I would feel bad too if I was busy cheating, only to be paid in worthless dollars.
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fragony View Post
    Thought this was common knowledge, yeah they can track your mobile phone, even when it's turned of.
    What if you take out the battery?
    Wooooo!!!

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    Needs more flowers Moderator drone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shaka_Khan View Post
    What if you take out the battery?
    You are safe then, but try that with an iPhone...
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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    and you all will know one chief advantage live in third world country with no CCTV installed on almost all roads, your telephone operator didn't know how to track a man... and your government decide to let complete freedom on the internet without affraid being watched...

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    Default Re: Cell phone tracking: From tinfoil hats to reality?

    Would that be a country with the downsides of having a poor judicial system, a lack of regards for the rights and freedoms of its inhabitants, and a rather unscrupulous elite?
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