Local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities made more than 1.3 million demands for cellphone subscriber information last year, in a sign of their growing reliance on technology to aid criminal and emergency investigations, reports the Washington Post. The reports from carriers came in response to a congressional inquiry seeking to document the surge in surveillance involving data from mobile devices as more and more Americans carry cellphones to talk, text, and send messages.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sought the information, including records on “cell tower” dumps, in which the carriers provide law enforcement authorities with data on cellphone users near a cell tower during a discrete period of time. The carriers said all requests were made pursuant to a legal warrant or because of an emergency situation in which an individual was in imminent danger. “We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers,” said Markey, co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. “Law enforcement agencies are looking for a needle, but what are they doing with the haystack?” Law enforcers say such data are useful in tracking drug traffickers, fugitives, and kidnappers, especially in emergencies, and that they are not interested in activities of law-abiding Americans.