* Requests for cell phone records top 1.3 mln last yr
* Markey says concerned privacy ignored
* Carriers staff dozens to handle requests
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, July 9 Cell phone carriers have seen
a sharp rise in requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies for
their customers' cell phone records, raising privacy concerns
and adding a legal burden to mobile phone companies.
Representative Edward Markey on Monday released data from
the companies showing more than 1.3 million requests for cell
phone records last year.
Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. carrier, reported an annual
15 percent spike in requests, and No. 4 carrier T-Mobile USA
said it has seen a 12 percent to 16 percent increase each year.
"We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with
the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially
for innocent consumers," said Markey, a senior member of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Law enforcement agencies
are looking for a needle, but what are they doing with the
Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sent letters to nine
wireless carriers last month seeking information on the volume
and scope of the requests after The New York Times reported cell
phone tracking had become common practice for police officials
with little or no oversight.
Requests for cell phone records are not subject to any
reporting requirements, making the congressional inquiry and
Markey's release of the companies' responses the first public
accounting of law enforcement's rampant use of cell phone
The companies said they maintain dedicated teams to deal
with the deluge of requests, and said they only release the
information when ordered to do by subpoena or if law enforcement
officials certify there is an emergency involving danger of
death or serious physical injury.
Verizon said it has a dedicated team of roughly 70
employees, and staffs the legal team 24 hours a day, seven days
Sprint employs a team of 36 analysts who receives and
reviews court orders for wiretaps and trace devices and then has
an additional 175 analysts to respond to court orders for
T-Mobile, meanwhile, also has a dedicated "law enforcement
relations" team that works closely with its legal department and
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon
Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, while
T-Mobile is a U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG's.
MetroPCS Communications Inc, C Spire Wireless,
Cricket Communications Inc, TracFone, a unit of Mexico's
American Movil , and U.S. Cellular also
responded to Markey's inquiry.
The Obama administration is currently looking for ways to
give consumers more control over personal information while
surfing the Web on their laptops and mobile phones, following
embarrassing privacy blunders, including secretly tracking
users' locations via their smartphones.