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Why Does the Cell Phone Association Oppose Location-Tracking Warrant Requirement?

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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April 23, 2012

CTIA, the industry association representing wireless phone carriers, is opposing proposed California legislation that would require the police to get a warrant before accessing a person’s location records from a cellphone company.

The association opposes the warrant requirement, and also opposes a requirement that carriers publicly disclose how often and why they share information with law enforcement.

As Declan McCullagh notes in his coverage of the story for CNET,

by advancing this argument, CTIA risks creating the perception that its member companies are happy to open their databases of customers’ GPS coordinates to law enforcement — just so long as nobody knows about it.

McCullagh also notes that wireless carriers receive significant fees for giving their customers’ data to law enforcement. What it looks like is that the wireless carriers want to continue betraying some customers (mobile phone users) to please others (law enforcement), and continue raking in money from both.

As my colleague Nicole Ozer at the ACLU of Northern California points out:

The wireless industry’s opposition letter claims it would “unduly burdensome” to tell Californians what is happening because they are already so busy giving your location data to law enforcement. Their letter says, “These reporting mandates would unduly burden wireless providers and their employees – who are working day and night to assist law enforcement…” . . . .

It hasn’t been too burdensome for Sprint Nextel to process 8 million demands for location information in just over a single year from law enforcement. In December 2009, Sprint’s Electronic Surveillance team manager revealed that the company’s automated web systems for law enforcement requests “has just really caught on fire with law enforcement” and “is extremely inexpensive to operate and easy.”

Why do the carriers even keep detailed records of our movements? As we’ve told them before, that isn’t something they should even be doing without the affirmative permission and knowledge of their customers.

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