An Indiana University grad student has made public an audio recording of a Sprint employee who describes how the company has given away customer GPS location data to cops over 8 million times in less than a year. Ars technica reports that “law enforcement [officers] could log into a special Sprint Web portal and, without ever having to demonstrate probable cause to a judge, gain access to geolocation logs detailing where they’ve been and where they are.” Update: Sprint says the 8 million figure refers to individual pings of GPS data, and that the number of individuals involved is in the thousands.
You might be upset to know that Sprint is giving away this info so freely, but Ars points out that cops don’t need to show probable cause to get an order to access info on your physical location, they just need a pen register/trap & trace order. What’s more interesting, they point out, is that the volume of requests that Sprint claims it served sounds incredibly high to have all been backed by pen register/trap & trace orders.
Before you dismiss that as too tinfoil-hat sounding, note these two points that the graduate student and ars technica make:
- there’s no reliable public info on the current scope and volume of this type of surveillance, partially because some companies aren’t publishing the data despite laws requiring them to do so; and
- without reliable reporting, there’s no easy way to determine whether or not the courts are truly involved in all of these requests.
Sprint’s law enforcement web portal is part of their Electronic Surveillance group, and judging by the audio recordings referenced in the ars technica article, the group is poised to grow even larger as more requests come in and they automate more surveillance systems to release data automatically to law enforcement.
Sadly, nobody seems too interested in reining in the potential abuse. And you could try going to another carrier, but it’s not solely a problem with Sprint. As ars technica’s John Stokes writes,
I’ve been reporting on this exact metadata/surveillance issue for years now, and it just gets worse. The stressed, jobless, indebted public doesn’t care, and Congress doesn’t either. If I’m still on this beat in 5 years, I’m sure I’ll still be rewriting this same story for the thousandth time.
“Sprint fed customer GPS data to cops over 8 million times” [ars technica] (Thanks to Ilya!)