Cell Phone Surveillance Surges

Discussion in 'Freedom and Liberty' started by tulianr, Jul 9, 2012.

  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey


    WASHINGTON — In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.
    The cellphone carriers’ reports, which come in response to a Congressional inquiry, document an explosion in cellphone surveillance in the last five years, with the companies turning over records thousands of times a day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas and other requests.
    The reports also reveal a sometimes uneasy partnership with law enforcement agencies, with the carriers frequently rejecting demands that they considered legally questionable or unjustified. At least one carrier even referred some inappropriate requests to the F.B.I.
    The information represents the first time data have been collected nationally on the frequency of cell surveillance by law enforcement. The volume of the requests reported by the carriers — which most likely involve several million subscribers — surprised even some officials who have closely followed the growth of cell surveillance.
    AT&T alone now responds to an average of more than 700 requests a day, with about 230 of them regarded as emergencies that do not require the normal court orders and subpoena. That is roughly triple the number it fielded in 2007, the company said. Law enforcement requests of all kinds have been rising among the other carriers as well, with annual increases of between 12 percent and 16 percent in the last five years. Sprint, which did not break down its figures in as much detail as other carriers, led all companies last year in reporting what amounted to at least 1,500 data requests on average a day.
    With the rapid expansion of cell surveillance have come rising concerns — including among carriers — about what legal safeguards are in place to balance law enforcement agencies’ needs for quick data against the privacy rights of consumers.
    Legal conflicts between those competing needs have flared before, but usually on national security matters. In 2006, phone companies that cooperated in the Bush administration’s secret program of eavesdropping on suspicious international communications without court warrants were sued, and ultimately were given immunity by Congress with the backing of the courts. The next year, the F.B.I. was widely criticized for improperly using emergency letters to the phone companies to gather records on thousands of phone numbers in counterterrorism investigations that did not involve emergencies.
    As cell surveillance becomes a seemingly routine part of police work, Mr. Markey said in an interview that he worried that “digital dragnets” threatened to compromise the privacy of many customers. “There’s a real danger we’ve already crossed the line,” he said.
    The surging use of cell surveillance was also reflected in the bills the wireless carriers reported sending to law enforcement agencies to cover their costs in some of the tracking operations. AT&T, for one, said it collected $8.3 million last year compared with $2.8 million in 2007, and other carriers reported similar increases in billings.
    Because of incomplete record-keeping, the total number of law enforcement requests last year was almost certainly much higher than the 1.3 million the carriers reported to Mr. Markey. Also, the total number of people whose customer information was turned over could be several times higher than the number of requests because a single request often involves multiple callers. For instance, when a police agency asks for a cell tower “dump” for data on subscribers who were near a tower during a certain period of time, it may get back hundreds or even thousands of names.
    With the demands so voluminous and systematic, some carriers have resorted to outsourcing the job. Cricket said it turned over its compliance duties to a third party in April. The outside provider, Neustar, said it handled law enforcement compliance for about 400 phone and Internet companies.
  2. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    I would think the majority of folks who conduct illicit or illegal biz on their cell would be using a throwaway phone anyway. Those records will probably help them catch a lot of 14 year olds wanking away in gramma's basement though.
    Seawolf1090 and BTPost like this.
  3. VHestin

    VHestin Farm Chick

    We use prepaid cellphone because we don't use it much and that way we don't have those stupid taxes or have to worry about late fees. And we don't always have to buy more minutes every month if we have enough. Though maybe I oughtta stop using 'crack' as the code word for coffee....
    Brokor likes this.
  4. Sapper John

    Sapper John Analog Monkey in a Digital World

    I wonder how many of these requests are people checking up on thier spouse's or significant others...just sayin'.
  5. wrc223

    wrc223 Monkey+

    I have always assumed that anything I said on a phone be it landline or cell phone could be heard by anyone at any time anyway. I think the same thing about these computer we all type away on. Wont change how I do anything.

    Now, what would be funny is screwing with the system a bit. When you call a number you KNOW you are going to be on hold with forever and a day, say keywords when you first connect and then let the musak play.
  6. VHestin

    VHestin Farm Chick

    Oh I was chatting with a friend online years ago, and we were talking about the good chance our conversations were being 'monitored', so being a smart*ss, I typed in "Hi people who are watching this!" or something like that, and as soon as I sent that message, BAM! my computer crashes. But I know it was just coincidence....
    oldawg likes this.
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