Your tweets are not your own (and neither is your phone)

Law enforcement demands for Twitter and mobile phone data are skyrocketing. Surprised? You shouldn't be.


In a similar vein, nine US cellular companies recently responded to questions posed by US Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass), who asked how many requests they get from US law enforcement agencies for mobile data, including call records, texts, and actual wiretap demands.

The total? A staggering 1.3 million requests last year, or about three times the number five years ago. AT&T’s response to Markey details the amazing growth in requests, which include legal orders as well as e911 location requests from Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) services.



AT&T received some 180,000 requests for criminal investigations, including wiretaps. It turned down less than 1000 of them – all of them wiretap requests that contained some kind of error.

AT&T says it employs more than 100 people whose sole job is to deal with data requests from law enforcement. The cost of these searches – not including e911 searches, which AT&T performs for free – was more than $8 million last year, all of which was passed on to taxpayers. Verizon received “between $3 million and $5 million in each of the last five years” for performing similar services. T-Mobile and Sprint declined to say what they collected for these searches.

Who determines if requests for our mobile data must be fulfilled? Attorneys for the wireless companies. Does that make you nervous? It makes me nervous.

Which brings us back to where I started. Many Americans tend to assume that if they do nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear from their Uncle and his minions spying on their tweet stream and their mobiles. Sure -- unless you’re living in an era where belonging to the wrong ethnic group or holding the wrong opinions is considered a crime. And we’ve gone through a few of those over here, just as those folks in less ‘enlightened’ countries have, and will no doubt go through more.

As the LA Times’ Matt Pearce writes, “Everything is evidence. You might want to remember that the next time you log on.”

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