New reports from major cellphone carriers are confirming what many have long suspected: demands for subscriber information by members of US law enforcement are rising exponentially. The reports, released in compliance with a Congressional inquiry, show an enormous increase in police and government surveillance on the mobile front over the past five years, with carriers stating they have responded to an alarming 1.3 million requests for location data, text messages, and other private information in the last year alone.
Among the most shocking figures, AT&T now receives an average 700 requests per day, around 230 of which are considered "emergencies" and do not require a warrant or subpoena. Sprint's numbers are even greater, totaling an average of 1,500 requests per day.
AT&T now receives an average 700 requests per day, around 230 of which are considered "emergencies"
The nine major carriers that submitted the reports say that the intensifying barrage of requests accompanies a number of justifications, from police emergencies to court subpoenas, and originate from local, state, and federal officials. But a good deal of the requests have been of questionable legality, and T-Mobile admits it has even gone as far as to report some of them to the FBI.
In addition to the privacy concerns of subscribers, carriers have also expressed their gripes, noting the high operational costs associated with being at law enforcement's beck and call. Despite being promised reimbursement for these activities, many carriers have complained that surveillance demands have put them into the red — low-cost wireless company Cricket has even said that "it is frequently not paid on the invoices it submits."
In total, the reports show that the number of requests has risen between 12 and 16 percent annually in the past five years. Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, who headed up the inquiry, was shocked upon seeing its results, saying he "never expected it to be this massive."