That’s thanks in part to a proliferation in location-based technologies and flexible communications providers that turn over information based on police claims of an ongoing “emergency.” Comparing numbers from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to figures shared by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the Times found that law enforcement requests to track devices come fast and furious every single day for the major mobile carriers, but very few included court approval.
The exact number of mobile devices spied upon since 2007 is not yet known, mostly because a single request can often involve multiple callers or whole areas on the map, potentially revealing thousands of peoples’ locations at once. But Rep. Markey, who chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, asked carriers to look into the matter, discovering that mobile phone tracking requests are at an all-time-high and still growing.
The Times added that AT&T by itself accounts for “more than 700 requests a day,” and roughly “230 of them” are “emergencies” that don’t require a court order — more than three times the number the carrier recorded in 2007. All carriers combined, the Times noted that 1.3 million requests were placed last year alone, the vast majority of them lacking any kind of court approval.
That’s in stark contrast to the total number of actual “wiretap” requests, where police actively eavesdrop on conversations with the permission of a judge — in all, there were just 2,732 wiretaps authorized by judges in 2011, the most recent annual U.S. Wiretap Report claimed. Interestingly, that figure represents a decline of 14 percent over 2010.
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