If you secretly suspected that nifty mobile device in your pocket was spying on you, your paranoia has just been richly rewarded.
As the New York Times reports, a Congressional inquiry into cell phone surveillance reveals that U.S. law enforcement agencies requested data from wireless carriers more than 1.3 million times last year -- or nearly 500 times the number of wiretaps approved over the same period.
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That number is way larger than anyone expected. But the actual number of people spied on might be even higher, says the Times:
Because of incomplete record-keeping, the total number of law enforcement requests last year was almost certainly much higher than the 1.3 million the carriers reported to [Senator] Markey. Also, the total number of people whose customer information was turned over could be several times higher than the number of requests because a single request often involves multiple callers. For instance, when a police agency asks for a cell tower "dump" for data on subscribers who were near a tower during a certain period of time, it may get back hundreds or even thousands of names.
More interesting numbers in that Times story: AT&T got an average of 700 requests a day, or roughly triple the number it received five years ago. About a third of those requests were deemed "emergencies" -- such as location tracking to find someone who's gone missing or is suicidal -- and thus did not require a subpoena or other court order to be filled. Sprint, meanwhile, received nearly 1,500 requests every day.
Not all of these requests were filled, though most of the wireless carriers declined to name how many they rejected. One provider -- tiny C Spire Wireless -- said it kicked back 15 percent of the requests it received, and T-Mobile said it referred two police requests to the FBI after deeming them "inappropriate."
By the way, all this tracking isn't cheap. Wireless companies are allowed to pass the expense of doing data searches onto taxpayers. AT&T billed us $8.3 million for the privilege of letting Johnny Law paw through our call records and texts, for example.