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IT'S TRUE: Americans have no right to privacy when they give information to a third party -- such as cell phone provider

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With the recent revelations from National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden over governmental surveillance of telephone calls, it's unnerving to learn that major cell phone providers are all too willing to share private information with government agencies. One Senator asked seven cell phone providers about their compliance to work with agencies, and he found an amazing amount of compliance. Furthermore, these companies retain records of such surveillance for extended periods of time .

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts put forth a question to the seven providers and asked how often they received and complied with law enforcement requests for customer data in 2012.

The responses served to confirm what a similar inquiry from Markey revealed in 2012. Law enforcement requests for customer data are growing in number. These inquiries are becoming even less reliant on court approval.

In addition, these written responses of these cell phone carriers provided a comparison of how long carriers will store customer information and under what circumstances they will hand over that information to law enforcement.

As the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to private companies, privacy advocates are unable to get exact figures on how often law enforcement agencies demand cell phone data. The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU has tried to create a snapshot of cell data collection by filing FOIA requests with law enforcement agencies across the country.

Markey obtained the latest figures using the authority of his office.

Privacy blogger Kade Crockford for the ACLU of Massachusetts compiled a pair of charts comparing the information released to Senator Markey from major cell phone carriers. The first chart demonstrates how long each carrier stores various pieces of customer data, such as call detail records and geo-location data. The carriers include AT & T, Verizon, Sprint, Cricket, T-Mobile and Metro PCS.

According to the chart, AT&T provided the Drug Enforcement Administration with call records dating back 26 YEARS. This contradicts the company's claim to Markey that they only store CDRs for for years.

The second chart was on the legal mechanisms each company requires for the release of each type of user data to law enforcement.
U.S. Cellular's letter to Markey includes a numerical breakdown of each type of request they received from law enforcement. They said that cellular customers who have their data subpoenaed by law enforcement are usually not informed.

If a customer were to find out somehow that their records had been subpoenaed, the "third party doctrine" would in most cases prevent the subpoena from being rejected. This doctrine states that Americans have no right to privacy when they hand over information to a third party like a cell phone provider.

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