Too Large to Manage? 1.3M Cell Phone Snooping Demands Filed in 2011
July 9, 2012 2:23 PM
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 [
]. 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. (
) 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 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.
The New York Times
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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