Which Telecoms Store Your Data the Longest? Secret Memo Tells All

The nation’s major mobile-phone providers are keeping a treasure trove of sensitive data on their customers, according to newly-released Justice Department internal memo that for the first time reveals the data retention policies of America’s largest telecoms.

The single-page Department of Justice document, “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” (.pdf) is a guide for law enforcement agencies looking to get information — like customer IP addresses, call logs, text messages and web surfing habits – out of U.S. telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The document, marked “Law Enforcement Use Only” and dated August 2010, illustrates there are some significant differences in how long carriers retain your data.

Verizon, for example, keeps a list of everyone you’ve exchanged text messages with for the past year, according to the document.  But  T-Mobile stores the same data up to five years. It’s 18 months for Sprint, and seven years for AT&T.

That makes Verizon appear to have the most privacy-friendly policy. Except that Verizon is alone in retaining the actual contents of text messages. It allegedly stores the messages for five days, while T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint don’t store them at all.

The document was unearthed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina via a Freedom of Information Act claim. (After the group  gave a copy to Wired.com, we also discovered it in two other places on the internet by searching its title.)

“People who are upset that Facebook is storing all their information should be really concerned that their cell phone is tracking them everywhere they’ve been,” said Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney. “The government has this information because it wants to engage in surveillance.”

The biggest difference in retention surrounds so-called cell-site data. That is information detailing a phone’s movement history via its connections to mobile phone towers while its traveling.

Verizon keeps that data on a one-year rolling basis; T-Mobile for “a year or more;” Sprint up to two years, and AT&T indefinitely, from July 2008.

The document also includes retention policies for Nextel and Virgin Mobile. They have folded into the Sprint network.

The document release comes two months before the Supreme Court hears a case testing the government’s argument that it may use GPS devices to monitor a suspect’s every movement without a warrant. And the disclosure comes a month ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Privacy Communications Act, an outdated law that the government often invokes against targets to obtain, without a warrant, the data the Justice Department document describes.

“I don’t think there there is anything on this list the government would concede requires a warrant,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This brings cellular retention practices out of the shadows, so we can have a rational discussion about how the law needs to be changed when it comes to the privacy of our records.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has proposed legislation to alter the Electronic Privacy Communications Act to protect Americans from warrantless intrusions. Debate on the issue is expected to heat up as the anniversary nears, and the Justice Department document likely will take center stage.

Infographics: Michael Cerwonka/Wired.com

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David Kravets writes for Wired, January 2013:

The Sunnyvale, California-based internet concern’s exclusive comments came two days after Google revealed to Wired that it demands probable-cause warrants to turn over consumer content stored in its popular Gmail and cloud-storage Google Drive services — despite the Electronic Communications Privacy Act not always requiring warrants.

“Yes, we require a probable cause warrant for e-mail content,” said Yahoo spokeswoman Lauren Armstrong, in an e-mail interview. “That is more than ECPA requires.”

In short, Yahoo and Google are granting their customers more privacy than the four corners of the ECPA. There’s been a string of conflicting court opinions on whether warrants are required for data stored on third-party servers longer than 180 days.

ECPA was adopted in 1986, under the President Ronald Reagan administration, when e-mail was held briefly on servers on its way to a recipient’s inbox. In the 1980s, e-mail more than six months old was assumed abandoned, and therefore ripe for the taking.

For years, Congress has opposed reworking the law to comport with the advancement of technology.

So it appears that Google and Yahoo have changed some of the rules on their own. Under the letter of the ECPA law, the government only needs to show that it has “reasonable grounds to believe” e-mail and other documents stored in the cloud for more than 180 days would be useful to an investigation.

Tar Sands, Trade Rules And Gutting Human Rights For Corporate Profit

A new report released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at how tar sands have developed from an unconventional, inefficient energy source to the spotlight of the corporate agenda as conventional oil supplies dwindle. Tar Sands: How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights follows the development of energy policy from NAFTA up to current free trade negotiations to illustrate that while energy sources evolve, one trend remains constant: The protection of corporate profits at the expense of human rights, sovereignty and the environment. With new free trade agreements in negotiation, the time for action is here: The public needs a seat at the negotiating table. The Washington Post’s disclosure last month of yet another leaked EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating document on Energy and Raw Materials (ERM) brings to light the overwhelming emphasis placed on dismantling the United States’ ability to govern its own energy resources. Pressure to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), due to new-found U.S. energy reserves through hydraulic fracturing, stands as most controversial to environmentalist and anti-globalist. Instituted in 1975 in response to the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, the EPCA ensures domestic supply of oil by preventing U.S.-produced crude oil from being exported to foreign countries. http://goo.gl/avY8Zs

Tar Sands, Trade Rules And Gutting Human Rights For Corporate Profit

A new report released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at how tar sands have developed from an unconventional, inefficient energy source to the spotlight of the corporate agenda as conventional oil supplies dwindle. Tar Sands: How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights follows the development of energy policy from NAFTA up to current free trade negotiations to illustrate that while energy sources evolve, one trend remains constant: The protection of corporate profits at the expense of human rights, sovereignty and the environment. With new free trade agreements in negotiation, the time for action is here: The public needs a seat at the negotiating table. The Washington Post’s disclosure last month of yet another leaked EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating document on Energy and Raw Materials (ERM) brings to light the overwhelming emphasis placed on dismantling the United States’ ability to govern its own energy resources. Pressure to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), due to new-found U.S. energy reserves through hydraulic fracturing, stands as most controversial to environmentalist and anti-globalist. Instituted in 1975 in response to the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, the EPCA ensures domestic supply of oil by preventing U.S.-produced crude oil from being exported to foreign countries. http://goo.gl/qCG0uo

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