Congressman Edward J. Markey has disclosed that U.S. law enforcement agencies made a staggering 1.3 million requests for mobile service companies to provide cell phone records of consumers.
Markey became concerned over the lack of judicial oversight of the practice after the publication of a report in the New York Times that indicated the number of requests by law enforcement was steadily growing.
“Law enforcement agencies are looking for a needle, but what are they doing with the haystack? We need to know how law enforcement differentiates between records of innocent people, and those that are subjects of investigation, as well as how it handles, administers, and disposes of this information,” said Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and co-Chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus.
Markey sent letters to U.S. Cellular, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA Inc., Leap Wireless Inc./ Cricket Communications, Inc., MetroPCS, Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T, C Spire Wireless, and TracFone Wireless, requesting they provide information on their policies and prosedures regarding the request for records.
The mobile carriers in general replied that all requests for information were "pursuant to a legal warrant or granted due to an emergency situation."
Link to the responses from the carriers Markey contacted can be found HERE.
One of the major concerns is the practice of supplying “cell tower dumps” in which mobile carriers are asked to provide record of every cell phone that accesses a particular relay tower during a specified period of time, regardless of whether the users are subject to an investigation.
Other findings from the responses to Rep. Markey include:
- There were approximately 1.3 million federal, state, and local law enforcement requests for cell phone records to wireless carriers in 2011 (This number does not include T-Mobile because the company did not provide this information in its response.). As a point of comparison in 2010, there were approximately 3,000 wiretaps issued nationwide.
- Verizon reported that there has been an annual increase of law enforcement requests of 15 percent, and T-Mobile reported and increase of 12-16 percent.
- Information shared with law enforcement includes data such as geolocation information, content of text messages, wiretaps, among others.
- Requests also include “cell tower dumps” in which carriers provide all the phones numbers of cell users that connect with a tower during a discreet period of time. In many cases, this includes information on innocent people, as cell phone tower dumps include all the calls made from a tower during a period of time.
- There is no comprehensive reporting of these information requests anywhere – this is the first ever accounting of this.
“We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers,” Markey stated.