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Cellphone Companies Give Your Info To Cops, Not You

June 29, 2012 by  

Cellphone Companies Give Your Info To Cops, Not You
Mobile phone service providers log data about your locations and store it for years.

Mobile phone service providers log data about your locations and store it for years. In the event of a criminal investigation, they routinely release such data to police; it is also provided — with personal information removed — to companies for advertising purposes.

But, according to ProPublica, you can rarely gain access to your own location data.

The organization asked its staffers to request such information from their cellphone providers. Here’s what they discovered:


On releasing location data to you: “Verizon Wireless will release a subscriber’s location information to law enforcement with that subscriber’s written consent. These requests must come to Verizon Wireless through law enforcement; so we would provide info on your account to law enforcement— with your consent— but not directly to you.”

On responding to requests from law enforcement: “Unless a customer consents to the release of information or law enforcement certifies that there is an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury, Verizon Wireless does not release information to law enforcement without appropriate legal process.” A spokesman said being more specific would “require us to share proprietary information.”


On releasing location data to you: “We do not normally release this information to customers for privacy reasons because call detail records contain all calls made or received, including calls where numbers are ‘blocked.’ Because of an FCC rule requiring that we not disclose ‘blocked’ numbers, we only release this information to a customer when we receive a valid legal demand for it.”

On responding to requests from law enforcement: “If the government is seeking ‘basic subscriber information’ (defined in 18 USC sec. 2701, et seq) it can obtain that information by issuing a subpoena. If the government is seeking Sprint records relating to our customers that go beyond ‘basic subscriber information’ then the government must furnish Sprint with a court order based on specific and articulable facts. If the government is seeking customer’s content then it must obtain a warrant based on probable cause.”


On releasing location data to you: “Giving customers location data for their wireless phones is not a service we provide.”

On responding to requests from law enforcement: “We do share data with law enforcement as part of a valid legal process – for example, a court order or a subpoena.”


On releasing location data to you: “No comment.”

On responding to requests from law enforcement: “For law enforcement agencies, we release customer information only when compelled or permitted under existing laws. This includes, but is not limited to, circumstances under which there is a declaration from law enforcement of an exigent circumstance, as well as other valid legal process, such as subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders.”

The phone companies hand over cellphone location information to police and the FBI thousands of times each year when a court order is provided.

ProPublica’s observation comes as the government is increasingly looking to use mobile phone location data to bolster prosecutions after a Supreme Court ruling that said the government must obtain a warrant to affix a GPS device to track a vehicle’s every move.

Sam Rolley

Staff writer Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After learning about many of the biases present in most modern newsrooms, Rolley became determined to find a position in journalism that would allow him to combat the unsavory image that the news industry has gained. He is dedicated to seeking the truth and exposing the lies disseminated by the mainstream media at the behest of their corporate masters, special interest groups and information gatekeepers.

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  • Chester

    Which is an outstanding reason NOT to own a gps enabled phone. Even better, use a no contract phone so the only records available will be for that particular phone number, not who owns or uses it. For me, Trac phone supplies all the services I need at a very reasonable price, twenty dollars every three months. I know of no other company who would let me have a phone, and a reasonable number of minutes, for such a low price.

  • Thor

    Interesting piece, Sam. I am at a bit of a loss though (“…you can rarely gain access to your own location data…”): why would you need to gain access to your own location data? Tracking lost phones, etc? Tracking the movements of a spouse, etc.?

    This of course brings to mind many legal issues. GPS can tell you where a phone is but how evidential is it in placing you at that location? May work as circumstantial evidence but alone is not exculpatory or direct.

    Also, shouldn’t the government make cell phone manufacturers put a warning on phones that tells purchasers whether it has passive or active or no GPS tracking capability? And what about aftermarket accessories that allow someone to clone your phone or put a chip in it that allows tracking–even allows one to listen to your conversation with another person while the phone is closed and supposedly ‘off’?

    • Ms. PAZ

      I believe that if such info is being released to law enforcement & the owner of the phone is subsequently charged with a crime, the SAME info should be released to the attorney for the person charged.
      Excellent reason to not loan your phone to another person, no matter how close the relationship.
      On the other hand my husband & I subscribe to AT&T’s GPS location service. We can locate the phones from a computer. We have that service because he drives truck. I can give our customers up to the minute info on his location without calling him — an unsafe practice that distracts him from his job of safely operating an 80,000 lb. loaded truck.
      We subscribed because too many truck drivers that are very good about keeping contact with dispatchers & family suddenly cease communicating. Too often it takes a few days to locate the rig and the driver is beyond help. I can know pretty quickly where the phone is & send someone to assist him. I can’t stand the thought of him laying sick & helpless in his truck.

  • Pete0097

    Storing that information about customers seems like a large waste of money. No wonder phone bills are so high. Get rid of all that data and cut your rates. That is why I too like my Tracphone.

    • restorefreedom

      Who needs GPS anyway? Just for government to track and spy on you! Are there any phones without GPS?

  • Beno

    I notice at times, I hear a clicking sound in the background like someone dialing into my phone? Big brother sucks and his so called laws are just take over powers.

  • http://Comcast Roger

    GPS are also being installed in all new automobiles now. Not talking about the video ones you pay extra for. Kinda like Lo Jack that can be turned on whenever Big Brother want’s to find where you are.




    • http://libertyAlerts mark

      Nice Chris.

  • Raymond Carl Hardie

    Verizon is nothing but a lying corporation. They are not abiding by the law, they help the Government abuse it concerning the Bill-Of-Rights and our Constitutional Liberties. Fact: in 2001 before the Bush Administration had any Congressional approval for invading the privacy of the public at large, they ( Bush Administration), had the consent of then newly formed Verizon to install network interface devices in every telecommunications switch under their (Verizon) control. The network interface devices were installed with the acronym “CLEA” which stands for Central Law Enforcement Access, and they did this prior to any approval for secretive wire tapping of private conversations. This began in late 2001! I know, because I am an retired switching technician and I made a complaint about the legality of this and I was informed that to say any thing to the public was grounds for termination! The United States is becoming a Nation whose elected officials are nothing more than subversive rebels fighting to overthrow the Constitution and its individual guarantees of personal freedom, and it becomes more apparent with each election that “We the People” are unable to change any of this through the ballot box. It appears that our freedom to vote is nothing more than a placebo intended to give the citizenry a sense of democracy, while the Banks, Corporations, and special interest groups with capital wield the course of legislation for their own agendas of power and control which is becoming more evident against the Constitution and the people.


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