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    Rep. Ed Markey: When, How Are Wireless Carriers Sharing Consumers’ Personal Information With Law Enforcement?

    Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), co-chairman of the House caucus on privacy, has sent letters (Markey page; archive pdf) to nine major wireless communications companies  — U.S. Cellular, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, Leap Wireless Inc./Cricket Communications, MetroPCS, Verizon Communications, AT&T, C Spire Wireless and TracFone Wireless — and asked “each about its policies and practices for sharing their customers’ mobile phone information with law enforcement agencies. Markey said in a news release that “disclosure of this personal information raises important legal and privacy concerns, particularly in the absence of consumer knowledge or consent or judicial oversight. We need more information about current wireless carrier practices in this area, including how firms may be profiting from consumers’ personal data, and I look forward to the responses from the wireless carriers.”

    In the letters, Markey references a March 31 New York Times article that reported: “Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.”

    Markey writes to the carriers: “The practice of cell phone tracking raises a number of legal, constitutional, and privacy questions. […] I am deeply concerned about possible privacy intrusions, particularly in the absence of consumer knowledge or consent, or judicial oversight.”

    He asks them to answer several questions by May 23, including: “Over the past five years, how many requests has your company received from law enforcement to provide information about your customers’ phone usage, including but not limited to location of device, tracing phone calls and text messages, and full-scale wiretapping?”; “What protocol or procedure does your company employ when receiving these requests?”; and “Has your company encountered misuse of cell phone tracking by police departments? If yes, in what ways has tracking been misused? And if yes, how has your company responded?”

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