America's Spy State: How the Telecoms Sell Out Your Privacy
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Equally revealing, the ACLU uncovered a DoJ chart detailing how long wireless companies retain personal data. Some of what it details follows:
-- AT&T -- keeps data indefinitely per cell towers used by a phone call; text messages are kept for 5 to 7 years, although it claims no to retain the text message content; and ISP session and destination info is only retained per non-public ISPs for 72 hours and not retained if a public ISP is used.
-- Verizon -- stores cell-site data for "1 rolling year"; holds onto text message detail for "1 rolling year" and actual text content for 3 to 5 days; it keeps ISP session information for 1 year but ISP browsing destination history information for 90 days.
-- T-Mobile -- does not retain the message content, but hangs onto your text details for "pre-paid: 2 years; post-paid: 5 years"; it does not keep ISP browsing destination history information.
-- Sprint/Nextel -- keep cell-site data for 18 to 24 months and stores ISP addresses and browsing history for 60 days.
-- Virgin Mobile (owned by Sprint) -- keeps text detail for "60 to 90 days" and the text message content for 90 days; it claims that a search warrant is required with "text of text" request"; it does not keep ISP browsing destination history information.
Christopher Soghoian, a leading Internet security scholar, provides an invaluable overview of this situation in a recent talk he gave at TED X.
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The ACLU, through Freedom of Information requests, secured documents revealing that more than 200 police departments around the country have been engaged in (often warrantless) surveillance activities. Local and state police regularly track cell phone locations. Perhaps more disturbing, local police brass often instructs their officers to not discuss cell-tracking technology with the public.
As the ACLU reminds all Americans: “Traditionally, the government should have to obtain a warrant based upon probable cause before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans' privacy, and it is also what is required under the Constitution." Those days are quickly slipping away.
A sampling of how state and local police employ surveillance tools is revealing.
Arizona – localities have acquired cell surveillance tracking equipment to avoid the time and expense of working through the commercial carrier.
California -- state prosecutors advised local police departments on ways to get carriers to “clone” a phone and download text messages while it is turned off.
Michigan – police are using "extraction devices" to download data from the cell phones of motorists that they pull over; extractions take place even if the motorists that are pulled over are not accused of doing anything wrong. In addition, a cell locator was used to find a stabbing victim who was in a basement hiding from his attacker.
Nevada, North Carolina and other states -- police departments have gotten wireless carriers to track cellphone signals back to cell towers as part of nonemergency investigations.
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In 2004, Mark Klein, a recently retired AT&T technician, revealed that in 2003 the NSA built a secret room at the company’s San Francisco facility on Folsom Street. The facility’s purpose was to monitor and copy all phone calls, emails, web browsing and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers and provides the information to the NSA. This story exposed the deeply hidden secret about federal surveillance of ordinary Americans known as the warrantless wiretap.
The Patriot Act, a draconian, anti-terrorist piece of legislation hurriedly enacted on October 26, 2001, legitimized the use of warrantless surveillance by federal agencies on U.S. citizens who the government suspected of communicating with a hostile foreign national. The Act allows the FBI to obtain telecommunication, financial and credit records without a court order.