For the first time ever, cellphone carriers are publicly reporting just how many demands for subscriber information they responded to from law enforcement agencies. Last year they had 1.3 million requests for info on text messages, caller locations and other information related to investigations.
The reports are being made public as the result of a Congressional inquiry and show a major uptick in cellphone surveillance in the last five years. Police emergencies, court orders, subpoenas and other requests have companies turning over records thousands of times a day, reports the New York Times.
Not all requests were accepted, if the company receiving it found it to be legally questionable or unjustified. One even referred such requests to the FBI. The cell companies made it clear that across the board on all levels of government, surveillance has been widened. That has some concerned as to whether or not there are enough legal safeguards in place to balance the need for quick data to uphold the law and conduct a successful investigation, against the privacy rights of consumers.
For example, AT&T responds to an average of more than 700 requests a day and around 230 of those are labeled as emergencies that don’t require any kind of court order or subpoena. That’s almost triple what AT&T received in 2007, it said. Sprint led all the companies, reporting around 1,500 data requests per day on average.
It costs money to turn over information related to surveillance operations, and luckily for the companies involved, federal law allows them to be reimbursed for “reasonable” expenses incurred during that process. However some cell phone carriers complained that they weren’t getting paid on submitted invoices.
The good news? Your cell phone conversations are less likely to be heard, as wiretap requests declined 14% last year.
More Demands on Cell Carriers in Surveillance [New York Times]