If you follow our blog then you know that Maine’s privacy laws are among the best in the country. Earlier this year we led the successful effort requiring law enforcement in Maine to get a warrant before accessing data created on or generated by your cellphone.
But not every state is so lucky. As Oami blogged about last week, outdated electronic privacy laws allow police in most states to access sensitive data without a warrant – and now there is new data showing the practice is growing by leaps and bounds.
Recently, Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts asked the nation’s major cellphone companies to disclose how frequently they receive requests from law enforcement for customer call records. The results are in and the answers shed light on the growing government surveillance complex.
We now know that in 2012 alone, AT&T T-Mobile documented 600,000 requests for customer information made by local, state, and federal law enforcement. (AT&T actually employs more than 100 full-time workers to process all of those requests!) Worse yet, the records show that police demand for our call records is rapidly increasing: In the last five years, Verizon estimates that police request for customers’ call records have doubled.
One of the other most interesting facts to come out of the companies’ responses to Senator Markey’s inquiry is that police are conducting real-time surveillance of targets’ web browsing. So as you sit here reading a blog on ACLUMaine.org, a law enforcement officer could be sitting at another computer, anywhere in the country, watching your activity in real-time.
There is also evidence of police requesting “tower dumps” whereby law enforcement don’t just get your cellphone records, but instead they get the records of all users who have connected to a particular cellphone tower over a given time range. Needless to say, there is certainly not individualized suspicion that all of these people have done something wrong.
If you’d like to see the full responses received from the seven wireless carriers that answered Senator Markey’s request, you can find all the data here.
None of these disclosures are staggering when taken in context with all that we’ve learned in the past year about the scope of government surveillance. But just because we already knew that the government was watching us doesn’t mean we should accept these new realities as the way it has to be.
If you want proof that citizens can successfully fight back against this growing surveillance state, you need look no further than Maine itself. We have taken a leading roll in expanding privacy protections and requiring that law enforcement obtain a warrant based on probable cause before conducting this type of surveillance. Hopefully the rest of the country can take a cue from us and begin saying that enough is enough.