Report: Law Enforcement Agencies Collect Americans’ Cellphone Data

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies collect data on Americans’ cellphone activity with the cooperation of phone companies, according to an investigation by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

Last year law enforcement collected more than 9,000 records from “tower dumps,” information from calls that bounce off cell towers, which can be used to track people’s movements, the Washington Post reported.

Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T, the three largest cellphone companies, received more than 50,000 emergency requests from law enforcement, for which agencies do not need a search warrant, according to the Boston Globe.

Markey has led a two-year charge to investigate data collection by law enforcement agencies, and found that standards for requesting and using phone records vary widely among law enforcement agencies.

“This isn’t the NSA asking for information,” Markey told the Washington Post. “It’s your neighborhood police department requesting your mobile phone data. So there are serious questions about how law enforcement handles the information of innocent people swept up in these digital dragnets.”

Police departments have not just been collecting information on calls, but also GPS data, websites and search terms, according to the Post. Markey will soon introduce legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before requesting any cellphone data.

Additionally, at least 25 police departments have stingrays, electronic devices that act as cellphone towers to connect to phones and collect data, records requested by USA Today revealed.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Livewire
Comments
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Reporters:
Newswriters:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: