Feeds

US cops blew more than $26m buying 1.1m cell phone files from telcos

And you thought your data plan was pricy

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

An investigation by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) into the monitoring of cellphones has found that US police paid telecommunications companies more than $26m to hand over location information, metadata, and sometimes the content of their customers' messages to cops in the US last year.

Senator Markey sent letters to the major US mobile providers asking how they handled requests from law enforcement, and found that last year telcos passed over 1.1 million records about customers to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. For this cooperation T-Mobile banked about $11m, with Verizon bagging a little under $5m, and AT&T getting "approximately $10,298,000" in fees.

"Have no doubt, police see our mobile devices as the go-to source for information, likely in part because of the lack of privacy protections afforded by the law," said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

"Our mobile devices quite literally store our most intimate thoughts as well as the details of our personal lives. The idea that police can obtain such a rich treasure trove of data about any one of us without appropriate judicial oversight should send shivers down our spines."

While the total number of customers investigated by the police appears to have dropped from the 1.3 million records requests Markey noted in 2011, last year's figures are underreported, he said, since Sprint declined to provide numbers on the grounds that it depended on how you counted such requests.

Markey also said the police requested more than 9,000 dumps of cell tower data in which every mobile in range of a base station is logged, warning this could mean tens of thousands more Americans were surveilled.

"As law enforcement uses new technology to protect the public from harm, we also must protect the information of innocent Americans from misuse," said Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

"Disclosure of personal information from wireless devices raises significant legal and privacy concerns, particularly for innocent consumers. That is why I plan to introduce legislation so that Americans can have confidence that their information is protected and standards are in place for the retention and disposal of this sensitive data."

Worryingly, telcos also seem happy to hand over the content of some messages on very limited pretexts. AT&T shares stored texts or voicemails older than 180 days old with a subpoena, while Verizon requires a warrant for disclosing text messages, but not necessarily for voicemails. T-Mobile requires a warrant for both text and voicemail messages.

"We need a 4th amendment for the 21st century," Markey said. "If the police want to know where you are, we should know why. When law enforcement access location information, it as sensitive and personal as searching an individual's home and should be treated commensurately." ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Apple's iPhone 6 first-day sales are MEANINGLESS, mutters analyst
Big weekend queues only represent fruity firm's supply
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Bill Gates, drugs and the internet: Top 10 Larry Ellison quotes
'I certainly never expected to become rich ... this is surreal'
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
EMC, HP blockbuster 'merger' shocker comes a cropper
Stand down, FTC... you can put your feet up for a bit
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.