Newspaper article International New York Times

Plan to Limit U.S. Cellphone Data Requests ; Legislation Being Readied Would Seek More Privacy Protection for Consumers

Newspaper article International New York Times

Plan to Limit U.S. Cellphone Data Requests ; Legislation Being Readied Would Seek More Privacy Protection for Consumers

Article excerpt

Senator Edward J. Markey said he planned to introduce a bill that would provide stronger privacy protections for consumers.

Cellphone carriers answered at least 1.1 million requests last year from law enforcement agencies in the United States seeking information on caller locations, text messages and other data for use in investigations, according to reports from the carriers.

Most of the requests were for information from a specific customer account. But law enforcement agencies also received information from 9,000 so-called tower dumps, in which the agencies were granted access to data from all the phones that connected to a cell site during a specified period of time.

The cellphone carriers' reports, which came in response to a congressional inquiry, underscored the law enforcement agencies' strong reliance on wireless phone records. The carriers are shown to turn over records thousands of times a day in response to police emergencies, subpoenas and other requests.

Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, requested the reports from seven carriers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile US. Senator Markey conducted a similar audit last year as a member of the House of Representatives, seeking information from carriers about law enforcement requests for 2011.

In 2011, the carriers complied with 1.3 million requests from law enforcement agencies. That number is not directly comparable with 2012's total of 1.1 million requests because Sprint, the third- largest American carrier, did not answer all of Senator Markey's questions.

Senator Markey said he planned to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that would provide stronger privacy protections for consumers, including the requirement of a warrant for the police to get cellphone location information from a carrier as proof that it would help uncover evidence of a crime.

"Congress needs to ensure that our laws keep up with technology, including how law enforcement handles and disposes of this sensitive mobile phone information," Senator Markey said in a phone interview.

The wide-ranging nature of government surveillance programs, many of which have been revealed by documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, has nudged some lawmakers to reassess privacy protections in the United States. Last week, it was reported that the National Security Agency tracks the location and movements of hundreds of millions of cellphones outside the United States, according to some of the documents leaked by Mr. Snowden. …

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