Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with customer location data more than 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009, according to a company manager who disclosed the statistic at a non-public interception and wiretapping conference in October.
The manager also revealed the existence of a previously undisclosed web portal that Sprint provides law enforcement to conduct automated “pings” to track users. Through the website, authorized agents can type in a mobile phone number and obtain global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the phone.
The revelations, uncovered by blogger and privacy activist Christopher Soghoian, have spawned questions about the number of Sprint customers who have been under surveillance, as well as the legal process agents followed to obtain such data.
But a Sprint Nextel spokesman said that Soghoian, who recorded the Sprint manager’s statements at the closed conference, misunderstood what the figure represents. The number of customers whose GPS data was provided to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies was much less than 8 million, as was the total number of individual requests for data.
The spokesman wouldn’t disclose how many of Sprint’s 48 million customers had their GPS data shared, or indicate the number of unique surveillance requests from law enforcement. But he said that a single surveillance order against a lone target could generate thousands of GPS “pings” to the cell phone, as the police track the subject’s movements over the course of days or weeks. That, Sprint claims, is the source of the 8 million figure: it’s the cummulative number of times Sprint cell phones covertly reported their location to law enforcement over the year.
The spokesman also said that law enforcement agents have to obtain a court order for the data, except in special emergency circumstances.
The information about the data requests and portal comes from Paul Taylor, manager of Sprint’s Electronic Surveillance Team. He made the revelations at the Intelligent Support Systems (ISS) conference, a surveillance industry gathering for law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the companies that provide them with the technologies and capabilities to conduct surveillance.
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Original article by: wired.com.