The number of requests authorities across the country are now submitting to cellphone service providers to keep tabs on Americans' records is massive, and rising.
Last year, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. submitted more than 1.3 million requests for customers' cellphone records from the nation's nine largest service providers, according to a report from Reuters
. The data was compiled by U.S. Representative Ed Markey, who led a congressional inquiry into this type of surveillance. It was believed to be the first public investigation into this type of tracking by law enforcement.
Further, the study found that the number of requests is going up, and neither law enforcement nor the companies are required to report that such a request took place, the report said. The study was spurred by a New York Times report earlier this year that highlighted how common the practice was, and how little oversight existed.
Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest service provider, has seen requests for its customers records increase about 15 percent per year in each of the last five years, and received roughly 260,000 in 2011, the report said. T-Mobile, the fourth-largest service provider in the U.S., reported similar numbers, with increases of between 12 and 16 percent every year.
"We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers," Markey, who is also a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the news agency. "Law enforcement agencies are looking for a needle, but what are they doing with the haystack?"
The study found most service providers have individual teams that deal exclusively with law enforcement requests, but usually only release the information when they receive a subpoena, the report said. However, they noted they will also turn over the data when officials certify that there is an emergency that involves death or serious physical harm.
Privacy advocates, however, say the practice is troubling, especially given the lack of oversight, especially because subpoenas do not require a judge's oversight as warrants do, the report said. Eduard Goodman
, chief privacy officer for Identity Theft
911, has a blog about the issues consumers might face in their everyday lives, and how they can increase the safety of their personal information.
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