* Requests for cell phone records topped 1.3 mln last year
* Markey says he is concerned about privacy
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, July 9 Mobile phone carriers
received more than 1.3 million requests last year from U.S. law
enforcement agencies for their customers' phone records and the
requests are on the rise, according to data gathered as part of
a congressional inquiry into cell phone surveillance.
Representative Edward Markey released data on Monday from
nine wireless carriers revealing the number of requests in 2011
for cell phone records. Neither law enforcement nor companies
are required to report such requests, making the inquiry and
release of information from the companies the first public
accounting of law enforcement's use of cell phone surveillance.
Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, sent letters to nine
wireless carriers last month asking for information on the
volume and scope of the requests after The New York Times
reported in April that cell phone tracking had become a common
practice for police with little or no oversight.
Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications
Inc and Vodafone Group Plc ; AT&T Inc ;
Sprint Nextel Corp ; T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche
Telekom AG ; MetroPCS Communications Inc ; C
Spire Wireless; Cricket Communications Inc, TracFone, a unit of
Mexico's American Movil , and U.S. Cellular
responded to Markey's inquiry.
According to the data, No. 1 U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless
reported an average spike in requests of about 15 percent a year
over the last five years, with around 260,000 requests last
year. No. 4 carrier T-Mobile USA said it has seen a 12 percent
to 16 percent increase each year, but it did not provide the
number of requests it received annually.
"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
The companies said they maintain teams to deal with the
requests, and said they only release the information when
ordered by subpoena or if law enforcement officials certify
there is an emergency involving danger of death or serious
The Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech
industry trade group, said it was concerned that the growing
government demand for user information was coming less from
warrants that require a judge's approval and more from subpoenas
The group, which includes Google Inc, Facebook Inc
, Sprint Nextel and Microsoft Corp called on
lawmakers on Monday to overhaul the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act to expand full warrant protections to online and
mobile content and to location information.
"As access to our wireless data gets easier to obtain by
government, and we move to using communications methods that
don't involve voice such as email and text messaging, there is
less reason for them to go through the process of getting a
wiretap warrant," CCIA attorney Ross Schulman said in a blog
AT&T said in its letter to Markey that 0.25 percent of their
wireless subscribers would have been affected by law enforcement
requests last year, assuming each request was for a different
customer. This was up from 0.18 percent in 2007. AT&T's data
included instances where it provided information for 9-1-1 call
respondents while Verizon's did not.
AT&T said it has 100 full-time employees to review and
respond to law enforcement requests.
Verizon said in its response to Markey that it has a
dedicated team of roughly 70 employees, and staffs the legal
team 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sprint employs a team of 36 analysts who receive and review
court orders for wiretaps and trace devices and an additional
175 analysts to respond to court orders for subscriber
information, it said in a letter to Markey.
T-Mobile also told Markey that it has a dedicated "law
enforcement relations" team that works closely with its legal
department and privacy team.
The Obama administration is looking for ways to give
consumers more control over personal information while surfing
the Internet on laptops and mobile phones.