The FBI wants cell phone carriers to store SMS messages for a long time, enabling them to conduct surveillance backwards in time. Nothing new there—data retention laws are being debated in many countries around the world—but this was something I did not know:
Wireless providers’ current SMS retention policies vary. An internal Justice Department document (PDF) that the ACLU obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that, as of 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days, a change from its earlier no-logs-at-all position, and Virgin Mobile kept them for 90 days. The carriers generally kept metadata such as the phone numbers associated with the text for 90 days to 18 months; AT&T was an outlier, keeping it for as long as seven years.
An e-mail message from a detective in the Baltimore County Police Department, leaked by Antisec and reproduced in a 2011 Wired article, says that Verizon keeps “text message content on their servers for 3-5 days.” And: “Sprint stores their text message content going back 12 days and Nextel content for 7 days. AT&T/Cingular do not preserve content at all. Us Cellular: 3-5 days Boost Mobile LLC: 7 days”
That second set of data is from 2009.
Leaks seems to be the primary way we learn how our privacy is being violated these days—we need more of them.
EDITED TO ADD (4/12): Discussion of Canadian policy.
Posted on March 21, 2013 at 1:17 PM •
Wired summarizes research by Christopher Soghoian:
Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with customer location data more than 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009, according to a company manager who disclosed the statistic at a non-public interception and wiretapping conference in October.
The manager also revealed the existence of a previously undisclosed web portal that Sprint provides law enforcement to conduct automated “pings” to track users. Through the website, authorized agents can type in a mobile phone number and obtain global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the phone.
From Soghoian’s blog:
Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.
The evidence documenting this surveillance program comes in the form of an audio recording of Sprint’s Manager of Electronic Surveillance, who described it during a panel discussion at a wiretapping and interception industry conference, held in Washington DC in October of 2009.
It is unclear if Federal law enforcement agencies’ extensive collection of geolocation data should have been disclosed to Congress pursuant to a 1999 law that requires the publication of certain surveillance statistics—since the Department of Justice simply ignores the law, and has not provided the legally mandated reports to Congress since 2004.
Sprint denies this; details in the Wired article. The odds of us ever learning the truth are probably very low.
Posted on December 3, 2009 at 7:18 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.