I have heard that by law (assuming US law) all modern laptops must have built in GPS. Presumably than, your laptop could be tracked down if it were stolen. This seems unrealistic, however, I've read that there are similar laws for modern cell phones (used for calling 911). In the world of TV fiction, I have seen this for phones and laptops, both of which could be remotely activated and then located. It seems logistically much more difficult for laptops than cell phones. Is there any truth to this whatsoever?

  • You don't by chance remember where you heard this? – MrHen May 20 '11 at 21:09
  • Ok, I know it's not reputable but the main place I am remembering this is an episode of Numb3rs. They recover Alan's laptop using the built in GPS and Charlie explains that it is a required feature in all modern laptops. I know it's just fiction, but Numb3rs often bases there fiction vaguely on elements of non-fiction. So, I was wondering if there is any truth to it whatsoever. – logicbird May 21 '11 at 19:20
  • Could this be a required feature of all government-purchased laptops? (I'm grasping at straws here; but in my not so humble and unreferenced opinion, this is Movie IT, perfectly in the vein of bash.org/?933542 Also, "there's this bunch of guys who track down the laptop through forensic methods, should it ever come back online" is definitely a much less cool script line.) – Piskvor left the building May 22 '11 at 17:59
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    Please define modern laptops. Such, that have GPS installed? ;) Don't have law-databases you could search? Or look for some vendor who sells Laptops without GPS. And why shouldn't the thief deaktivate it? And even if the Laptop can tell where it is, how does it prevent crime? You mean it should automatically report where it is? To whom? It would need some kind of Mobile Network as well. At least in Europe, this is often via an USB-Device. – user unknown Jul 21 '11 at 2:20
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    "but Numb3rs often bases there fiction vaguely on elements of non-fiction" Numbers doesn't even base their math on non-fiction. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 10 '11 at 2:24

Cell-phone wise, that is indeed the case (a FCC rule). From PCWorld: :

Enchanced 911

Mobile phone companies are under orders from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to incorporate some kind of location-reporting technology into cellular phones. Dubbed E-911, or enhanced 911, the communication initiative is meant to give law enforcement and emergency services personnel a way to find people calling 911 from mobile phones when callers don't know where they are or are unable to say.

No carrier was able to make an October deadline to fully implement E-911. The FCC issued waivers permitting carriers to add location-detection services to new phones over time, so that 95 percent of all mobile phones are compliant with E-911 rules by 2005.

More details from Wikipedia:


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has several requirements applicable to wireless or mobile telephones:

  • Basic 911: All 911 calls must be relayed to a call center, regardless of whether the mobile phone user is a customer of the network being used.
  • E911 Phase 1: Wireless network operators must identify the phone number and cell phone tower used by callers, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP.
    • E911 Phase 2 95% of a network operator's in-service phones must be E911 compliant ("location capable") by December 31, 2005. (Several carriers missed this deadline, and were fined by the FCC.) Wireless network operators must provide the latitude and longitude of callers within 300 meters, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP. Accuracy rates must meet FCC standards on average within any given participating PSAP service area by September 11, 2012 (deferred from September 11, 2008).

Location information is not only transmitted to the call center for the purpose of sending emergency services to the scene of the incident, it is used by the wireless network operator to determine to which PSAP to route the call.

Please note that GPS specifically is NOT required - merely some means of location. Wikipedia again:

To locate a mobile telephone geographically, there are two general approaches. One is to use some form of radiolocation from the cellular network, and the other is to use a Global Positioning System receiver built into the phone itself. Both approaches are described by the Radio resource location services protocol (LCS protocol).

NOTE: To the best of my knowledge, there are no similar rules for laptops, since they are done for 911 purposes and laptops aren't very suitable for that purpose due to low # of people owning them. So there's no point.

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    What does this have to do with the question? – MrHen May 20 '11 at 19:19
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    There is no reference for the laptop note; the rest of the answer has to do with cellphones which is only tangentially related to the question. As in, this answer does not answer the question with a reputable source. If that is okay, great. I am still learning the particulars of this site and can update my views accordingly. – MrHen May 20 '11 at 19:36
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    @DVK: For the record, I downvoted. I sympathize but do not think this answer is useful because it spends its space talking about a different subject and then tacks on an unreferenced answer as a note. – MrHen May 20 '11 at 21:08
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    thanks DVK, I now see that this is a hard question to answer if the claim is not true at all (and much easer if it was). Your answer backs up the assumption in my question that cell phones have similar traceability and gives good info about that. The question however is about laptops. Your answer in that regard is more of a logical assumption. One that is probably right but not really conclusive. There are other reasons than 911 calling that this kind of tracing could be made mandatory. Anyway, I think the info you provided is good and useful for this question but not a definite answer. – logicbird May 21 '11 at 19:46
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    @logicbird - could you please clarify what would be considered acceptable level of evidence of absence of the law for you? A set of Google searches? An answered quyestion on legal stack exchange (which doesn't exist AFAIK - the old one is dead)? – user5341 May 21 '11 at 21:53

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