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U.S. surveillance of citizens explodes with a wealth of records requests

U.S. law enforcement has moved over the last few years to exponentially expand its surveillance of citizen cell phone records, in a move that has privacy advocates and industry figures alike alarmed.

I. American Spying on Citizens Hits Record High 

In 2011 local, state, and federal agents dealt with approximately 10 million reports of crimes [source].  During their investigations they filed 1.3 million information requests, or approximately 1 request per every 10 crimes.  Commonly requested information included location information and text message logs.

The 1.3 million-request metric is likely understated due to incomplete record keeping.  Furthermore, a single request can involve multiple callers, so as many as 1 in every 100 Americans may have been targeted with a surveillance demand.

Cellular carriers voiced frustrations about the U.S. police state's soaring data requests in a response to a Congressional probe.  In their response, they point to a number of requests they considered inappropriate in that they seemed geared at harassment of citizens or other alarming aims.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus was shocked at the number of requests.  He comments, "I never expected it to be this massive.

II. Police: Safety Worth the Cost of Liberties, Taxpayer Dollars

Carriers report that requests have risen at a pace of approximately 12 to 16 percent per year.  AT&T, Inc. (T) was particularly hard hit, seeing requests triple between 2007 and 2012.  It currently handles around 700 requests per day, with roughly a third of them (230 per day) being classified as "emergency".

Telecoms do receive some rewards for compliance.  Reports peg the cost of a wiretap at over $1,000, and the telecoms also receive immunity from citizen lawsuits by cooperating with government's spying efforts in some instances.

Carriers say standard requests, which constitute about two-thirds of the data grabs are typically accompanied by a search warrant, a court order, or a formal subpoena.  However, the emergency requests are often less formal, raising substantial danger for abuse.

Some smaller carriers were left footing the bill for government spying, according to the report, despite requests to receive reimbursement.  Small carrier Cricket Communications, Inc. was among those who said it lost money complying with information demands.

U.S. Police
U.S. police and law enforcement officials, shown here beating down the pesky populace, say safety trumps civil liberties when it comes to data grabs. [Image Source: The Washington Post]

On the other hand, when the government does pay, taxpayers are left footing the bill.  Carriers charge $50 to $75 USD per hour for tower dumps.  

Many law enforcement officials, according to a piece in The New York Times are pleased with essentially be able to monitor citizens' locations at all times, something they say is a necessary sacrifice of liberty in the name of fighting crime.

Others are not so convince.  Reports of broad abuse of National Security Letters (NSL) -- a commonly used tool by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation -- found massive abuse of the warrantless data grabs.  The American Civil Liberties Union has been battling FBI lawyers to make the process more transparent.  The FBI has fought these demands, again arguing that the need for safety outweighs the need to preserve civil liberties.

Source: The New York Times

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By MadMan007 on 7/9/2012 3:11:03 PM , Rating: 1
"...the need for civil liberties outweighs the need to preserve safety."

^ correction for you, FBI.

RE: correction
By joex444 on 7/9/2012 4:03:22 PM , Rating: 2
Damn straight.

I'll say that I've lived in Switzerland for the last year and am returning back to the US. Lots and lots of times Americans are quick to turn a Europe vs America match into ridiculous arguments; I suppose the entire notion is ridiculous. The two cultures are just so vastly different. But I particularly enjoy how Europeans as a whole haven't changed their lifestyle and priorities in this "terrorism" era. Outside a few successful efforts, I think the bulk of it is made up propaganda to usher us into a more stratified class structure. Why? Because they can. Who? You know who -- our friendly bought and paid for congressman.

RE: correction
By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/2012 4:10:21 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah go live in Eastern Europe and you might have a different opinion. Switzerland is Euro-Lite :P

Secondly, okay, good argument. Let's fly a plane into the Eiffel tower or Buckingham Palace and see if that doesn't cause a few changes.

Lots and lots of times Americans are quick to turn a Europe vs America match into ridiculous arguments

And yet, you just did that by slamming America and labeling us as over-reactionary fearmongers. England and Europe has made LOTS of changes and has participated in the "war on terror" as well, you're being biased and not reporting the facts.

I also laugh at your "class structure" comment, considering how many places in Europe your status is impacted depending on what family you're born into or province you're from.

RE: correction
By Galcobar on 7/10/2012 1:25:45 AM , Rating: 2
Secondly, okay, good argument. Let's fly a plane into the Eiffel tower or Buckingham Palace and see if that doesn't cause a few changes.

That was already attempted, actually.

Your argument is that Europe hasn't changed its habits because it hasn't had to deal with dramatic instances of terrorist destruction?

The whole reason 9/11 was a big deal was because it was something new for the U.S. -- but not something new for the world.

The UK has dealt with major terrorist attacks for decades. The IRA and its splinter groups for instance, which last killed in 2009. Or the London subway bombings of 2005. Switzerland, by the way, faced a bombing in 2011 -- though that was aimed at nuclear power companies.

If we're talking about planes, how about Lockerbie in 1998 (Pan Am Fligh 103)? Canada's faced that in 1984 with the Air India bombing. Air France 8969, hijacked in 1994 -- with the intention to blow up the plane over the Eifel Tower. The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is held responsible for over 800 deaths in France and Spain -- including blowing up a building at a Madrid airport in 2006 which killed two.

Britain has certainly followed America's lead in curtailing civil liberties in favour of security. What's interesting is the timing of the reaction. The oddity is that Britain is indeed following, despite being subject to internal and external terrorist attacks on home soil long before 9/11.

The rest of Europe, however, has not demonstrated the same sort of reaction.

RE: correction
By Reclaimer77 on 7/10/12, Rating: 0
"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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