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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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RE: need more data
By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/2012 4:33:38 PM , Rating: 1
No I'm being a realist. If you don't have a healthy distrust of Government, well I can't help that. But I think the facts here speak for themselves. Give them an inch, and they will take a mile.

If you're saying you need a case by case explanation for all 1.3 million before you can form an opinion, that just seems absurd to me, no offense.

Besides, you aren't getting the facts anyway. Because this is a Government run thing, it's on a "need to know" basis, and you're just little people so you don't need to know. See how this works? Do you really want to place your trust in that system?

RE: need more data
By kleinma on 7/9/2012 5:17:59 PM , Rating: 1
Just keep that tin foil hat on tight there buddy.

RE: need more data
By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/2012 5:21:33 PM , Rating: 2
Just keep that tin foil hat on tight there buddy.

How can you even say that given the track record? It's not a conspiracy theory when I'm basing my opinion on thousands and thousands of previous infractions!

I assumed you wanted a discussion, now I see you just want to be a trolling child.

RE: need more data
By fortiori on 7/10/2012 7:11:28 PM , Rating: 2
Reclaimer, the fact that _anyone_ (like the guy above) believes that 1.3 million requests to invade the privacy of the citizens the government is meant to serve is perfectly on the level is far more scary than the actual requests themselves.

You can't kill a virus by fighting the symptoms.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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