Cell phone companies help the government spy on your phone use!
Sep. 29, 2011 6:36 PM ET
Document shows how phone cos. treat private data
PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
NEW YORK (AP) — A document obtained by the ACLU shows for the first time how the four largest cellphone companies in the U.S. treat data about their subscribers' calls, text messages, Web surfing and approximate locations.
The one-page document from the Justice Department's cybercrime division shows, for instance, that Verizon Wireless keeps, for a year, information about which cell towers subscriber phones connect to. That data that can be used to figure out where the phone has been, down to the level of a neighborhood. AT&T has kept the same data continuously since July 2008.
The sheet is a guide for law enforcement, which can request the information from the carriers through legal channels. The North Carolina section of the American Civil Liberties Union obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU said. Wired.com reported earlier about the document, which is dated Aug. 2010.
The document was released by the ACLU Wednesday, but has been hiding in plain sight on the website of the Vermont public defender's office. It can be found there through a Google search, but only if the searcher knows the exact title of the document.
A few data points from the sheet were known outside law enforcement circles, but wireless carriers have not been open about their policies. They aren't required to keep the data, and they keep the same information for varying lengths of time. Some don't keep data at all that other companies store. For instance, it says T-Mobile USA doesn't keep any information on Web browsing activity. Verizon, on the other hand, keeps some information for up to a year that can be used to ascertain if a particular phone visited a particular Web site.
According to the sheet, Sprint Nextel Corp.'s Virgin Mobile brand keeps the text content of text messages for three months. Verizon keeps it for three to five days. None of the other carriers keep texts at all, but they keep records of who texted whom for more than a year.
The document says AT&T keeps for five to seven years a record of who text messages whom —and when, but not the content of the messages. Virgin Mobile only keeps that data for two to three months.
The carriers don't have recordings of calls, but keep information about calls that are made and received for at least a year.
The ACLU said it believes people have a right to know how long phone companies keep records of their activities.
Although the sheet is dated August 2010, Tom Slovenski, a private investigator specializing in cellphone data, said it is still accurate.
Sprint spokesman Jason Gertzen said he couldn't comment on the specific figures in the sheet. Normally, he said, a subpoena, court order, or customer consent form from a recognized law enforcement agency is necessary for the carrier to hand out data. However, Sprint also responds to emergency requests, as in missing persons cases, if the police can document their need, he said.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said cellphone records can be crucial for all kinds of criminal and national security investigations. For example, they can be used to figure out with whom a known violent criminal is conspiring.
A bill in Congress would force wired Internet service providers to keep records of the network addresses assigned to each subscriber for 18 months. That would help investigators link online activity to specific homes. But the bill doesn't apply to wireless links. A series of such bills have been proposed over the years, but haven't passed.
ACLU's posting of the sheet: http://bit.ly/q6g9Xu Associated Press
Or check out this ACLU site.
Cell Phone Location Tracking Request Response – Cell Phone Company Data Retention Chart
Below is a clean copy of a document comparing the data retention policies of the top five cell phone providers in the U.S. The document, entitled, “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Providers,” was produced in 2010 by the Department of Justice to advise law enforcement agents seeking to obtain cell phone records and was uncovered by the ACLU's coordinated records request on cell phone location tracking by police. The original was received by the ACLU of North Carolina.
In August 2011, 35 ACLU affiliates filed 381 requests in 32 states with local law enforcement agencies seeking to uncover when, why and how they are using cell phone location data to track Americans. You can find more information about the effort here.
Cell Phone Location Tracking Public Records Request
September 28, 2011
In a massive coordinated information-seeking campaign, 35 ACLU affiliates are filing over 381 requests in 32 states across the country with local law enforcement agencies large and small that seek to uncover when, why and how they are using cell phone location data to track Americans.
Today, most people walk around with a tracking device in their purses or pockets – a cell phone. Location data from your cell phone can make it easy to get directions or locate the closest coffee shop. But it also makes it easy for your cell phone company to find you – whether through your phone’s built-in GPS or by noting your proximity to nearby cell towers. And that location data also says a lot about you – where you go, what you do, and who you know.
All too often, the government is taking advantage of outdated privacy laws to get its hands on this valuable private information by demanding it without a warrant. The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their location information is being accessed by the government – and that is exactly what we hope our information requests will uncover.
Is Your Local Law Enforcement Tracking Your Cell Phone’s Location?
The requests seek information from local law enforcement agencies, including:
whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data; statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone location data; how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cell phones and other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.The information requests are part of the ACLU’s Demand Your dotRights Campaign, an effort to make sure that, as technology advances, privacy rights are not left behind. Learn More
Below is a complete list of the information the ACLU requested:.
Policies, procedures and practices law enforcement agents follow to obtain cell phone location records