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TV Fact or Fiction: We Reveal the Answer to the ‘Law & Order: SVU’ GPS Question

Yahoo TV (old)

In the latest installment of TV Fact or Fiction, we focused on a scene from this week's episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" where Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Amaro (Danny Pino) were able to quickly track the location of a man even though the cell phone he used did not have GPS enabled.

Could this actually happen in real life? Seventy-two percent of our readers said it could, and they're right!

According to Timothy J. Hardiman, the technical consultant for "SVU" since 2004 and a retired inspector for the New York Police Department, the police have been locating and tracking cell phones long before the GPS feature was even available in them. Here's Hardiman's explanation:

"Phone companies have the technical ability to tell which towers a phone's signal "hits" when it is used. The phone company provides the effective range of the tower -- how far away a phone can be and still have its signal reach the tower. A circle is drawn using a radius of that length. The process is repeated with two other towers and the area where the three circles converge is the approximate location of the phone. This method will generally give an area of between 25 to 100 meters."

In addition, Hardiman tells us that the police do not need a search warrant to obtain this information from a telephone company; all they need is a subpoena signed by a district attorney or other state official.

Watch the full episode here:

"Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on NBC.

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