Law Enforcement Agencies Asked Wireless Companies For Information Regarding 1.3 Million Subscribers Last Year

Cellphone companies have reported that they have responded to 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies.  The agencies were seeking text messages and caller locations.  The carriers published the reports as a response to a Congressional inquiry.  Wireless companies are churning over thousands of records per day.

The wireless companies often reject demands that they consider legally questionable or not justified. At least one carrier pointed out that some FBI requests were inappropriate. This information was the first time that data has been collected nationally based on the frequency of cell surveillance by law enforcement.

“I never expected it to be this massive,” stated Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward J. Markey in an interview with The New York Times. Markey requested the reports from nine different carriers, which include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The surveillance went across all levels of government. The crimes committed by some of the cellphone owners include run-of-the-mill street crimes by local police departments and financial crimes at the state and federal levels.

AT&T responds to about 700 requests per day and 230 of them are considered emergencies that do not require court orders and subpoena. This is about triple the requests that they went through in 2007. Sprint averages about 1,500 requests per day.

Many of the wireless companies have incomplete record tracking so it would not be surprising to hear that the actual number of requests is higher than 1.3 million. Sometimes police agencies request a cell tower “dump” for data on subscribers that were near a tower during a certain period of time. They may get back hundreds or thousands of names depending on the city.

This article was written by Amit Chowdhry. You can follow me at @amitchowdhry or on Google+ at
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