Earlier this month, I wrote about research by the ACLU that found in many cases, police departments aren’t bothering to request warrants before asking mobile providers to turn over location information from suspects’ cell phones. But what about the role of telecoms in police investigations?
It’s bad enough that law enforcement agencies aren’t bothering with due process, but at least part of the blame falls on the carriers who are turning that data over without seeing a warrant. That’s why legislation like the California Location Privacy Bill, which would require police to show a warrant before accessing location data and for service providers to publish reports of such requests, seems like such a good, common-sense idea.
Well, not according to leading wireless industry trade group CTIA – an acronym it bafflingly still uses, even though the organization has dropped the moniker Cellular Telephone Industries Association in favor of The Wireless Association – which says that asking for a warrant would, well, just be too much work.
In an official CTIA letter to Mark Leno, the bill’s author, vice president of external and state affairs Jamie Hastings said the wireless industry has “serious concerns that the legislation may create confusion for wireless providers and hamper their response to legitimate law enforcement investigations. In addition, the provider reporting requirements create unduly burdensome and costly mandates on providers and their employees and are unnecessary as they will not serve wireless consumers.”
The CTIA, and Hastings, represent member companies including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Hastings is doing the dirty work, but the message is clear: They don’t want to be held accountable to their customers.
There’s another particularly weird moment in the letter.
“The bill would require providers to report the total number of location information disclosures annually, the number of times location information has been disclosed, the number of times no location information has been provided, the number of times providers contest such demands, and the number of users whose location information has been disclosed,” Hastings wrote. “Additionally, these reports would need to be posted on the Internet in a searchable format. ”
What a crushing amount of data that must be! Especially in comparison to, say, tracking the bills and overage charges on what now amount to more than 331 million wireless subscribers in the United States, according again to the CTIA.
“Mobile phone companies can give up this data millions of times per year, but really can’t be bothered to tell us when or why?” wrote Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar. “That’s ridiculous. ”