Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

Summary: The ACLU received its freedom of information request, showing how long cellular networks retain your personal data. Sit down for this one.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published the 2010 'data retention chart' received from the U.S. Justice Department by taking out a freedom of information request.

The document shows which mobile networks in the U.S. hold customer data, in what quantity and for how long -- ranging from the content of text messages, to recipients of phone calls, as well as Internet-browsing related activities.

Used to "advise law enforcement agents seeking to obtain cell phone records", it shows how long the six major cellular networks in the country -- Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Cingular, Sprint, Nextel and Virgin Mobile -- hold your personal data for, for use by law enforcement when the data is requested.

More at source (Wired)

Source: Image via Wired.com

Due to the array of lengths of time, it can be assumed that the cell network providers determine their own lengths of time for which data is retained, as opposed to any government or law enforcement issued guidance.

Looking closely at the document, it is clear a disparity arises between the networks, with Verizon, the largest network in the United States, retaining data for the longest.

Some of the most significant findings from this freedom of information request includes:

Verizon is alone in the cell network community in that it holds onto the content of text messages for 3 to 5 days. The company also logs your Internet-browsing history for 1 year, whereas other networks either don't, or hold it for a significantly shorter length of time.

AT&T and Sprint on the other hand holds onto copies of contract bills for 5 to 7 years, and 7 years respectively.

T-Mobile holds onto who you have called, who has called you and other call detail information for 2 years for pre-paid customers, and 5 years for contract customers.

Another feature of this request was cell-site tracking data, specifically in how cell networks track your location data cross-country. Verizon holds onto the data on a rolling yearly basis, T-Mobile holds onto the data for "a year or more", Sprint for up to two years, while AT&T holds this data indefinitely as of July 2008.

The "Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers" can be found here [PDF].

Topic: Mobility

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25 comments
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  • So, the federal government mandates these

    Companies retain data, and yet it's the company's fault they retain data? This deep seated indoctrination that the state is saintly has gotten us into our current pile of stink.
    baggins_z
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @baggins_z

      Pretty much... Big brother wants to know what is going on while trying to keep it from the American people. So went something like this does get out the throw the company under the bus so they look clean. Why do you think the US,UK and every other goverment/agency is out to end the likes of wikileaks Anon Lulzsec etc.. Before the information age skeletons in closets were a lot easier to keep in.
      MLHACK
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @baggins_z The article clearly states that it's the company's own policies that determine how long they retain data; the inconsistency reveals there is no legal requirement. Yet your post is blaming the government why exactly?
      jgm2
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @jgm@...
        Careful. You're introducing facts and logic into this.
        clfitz
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @jgm@... The best thing for anyone to do is ask the carrier what their policies are. if you don't like them change carriers...lol
        striker67
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @jgm@... Because it's a gov't requirement that they do so in the first place. Do you really think these companies would waste the storage space at all if they weren't forced to do so by the government?
        FrackAnon
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @baggins_z
      There reasons why they keep data. They sell everything.
      From how long you are on to who you call to what you browse. That is the only reason. If there was not big money in it they would not do it because it take alot of money to store that digital data. GOV has nothing to do with it. They have access if needed but the companies set the range kept. We complain but cell records are what linked some of the 9/11 hijackers. So...
      ser182
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @ser182 You're incorrect. There's no information worth money in who is texting who.
        Web browsing history, maybe, but Google has all that already and offers it for sale anyway, and that' isn't even listed in the disclosure. They do retain ip destination history (the closest thing to browsing history) for up to 90 days, after that, it's gone.
        Billing? The companies need to retain that for legal purposes in case of contract disputes, but it's not worth any money to anyone else, as the aggregate data are already publicly available via 10k and other forms.
        FrackAnon
  • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

    It seems to me any terrorist operatives wouldn't be dumb enough to use a contract phone or buy a burn phone under their real name. Nope this is a post 9-11 excuse for expanding police powers.
    kroguej
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @kroguej@...
      true. but if caught, the records of calls to and from the burn phone are kept.
      tiderulz
  • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

    You are using their network. They process the information. Unless they contract not to hold it it is entirely up to them. Get over it. If you want to keep it private, encrypt it or don't send it over the networks.
    hayneiii
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @hayneiii@...

      We PAY to use their network. That doesn't mean we should just roll with it! It's people like you that are destroying privacy for the people that actually care!
      Rob.sharp
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @rob.sharp@...
        There is nothing private anymore. Everyone life is out in the open. I can understand the level anonymity but when you use any digital device it will be tracked and stored. Our lives our a open book now. The only way to escape is not to use anything digital.
        ser182
      • Your landline calls weren't private, either.

        @rob.sharp@...

        Law enforcement agencies & governments have been able to track your phone usage long before cell phones came out. This is nothing new.
        spdragoo
      • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

        @rob.sharp@... ser182 actually "get's it right." The data is salable to a variety of concerns as I found out shortly after buying a cell phone and service, only to get a call from a collection agency calling within a few days (same name, different person). None of this is government mandated although I'm sure that the enforcement agencies are quite happy that it already exists.

        If you are really concerned about your privacy, then band together with others that share your concern and pay some company that doesn't keep records. Frankly, I seriously doubt you will get enough interest to pay for the increased per user cost of such a service. Do note that even though records are not kept, this does NOT protect from enforcement agencies installing a tap and monitor on certain communications services (warrant, or warrantless for that matter), as one of Anonymous found out the hard way. Anonymous VPN turned out to not be so anonymous. Oh by the way, the NSA will still monitor anything inbound or outbound from this country and many others. Thankfully (or sadly) they are so overloaded that the chance of coming to anyone's attention is probably slight.

        Lastly, I long ago realized that privacy is dead in this digitized world. And it always was in my case anyway (security clearance). Either get over it or figure out a new way around the monitoring.
        Brian J. Bartlett
  • I must be STUPID!

    I call my wife. I call my family and friends. They call me. I make a few calls to businesses. I must be stupid, but what how can it hurt me for the Government (or anyone else) to know that information? Get over it! Unless your doing something that is secret...
    master cylinder
  • One major nitpick

    I don't have a vested interest in *any* of these companies. Although I used to work for a 3rd-party that provided tech support for Verizon, those of us on the project were *far* from being positive about Verizon. And the only cellphone I've ever had (or probably ever will) is a TracFone "burner", so the major carriers don't really matter to me as much.

    That being said... looking at the chart, the *only* areas where Verizon stores information longer than any of the others is on the Internet usage (IP session information & IP destination information), and on service applications. In every other category, at least 1 carrier holds the information longer:

    -- Overall subscriber info: Sprint & Nextel (unlimited)
    -- Call detail records: AT&T/Cingular (5-7 years post-paid)
    -- Cell towers used by phone: AT&T/Cingular (from 07/2008 on)
    -- Text msg detail: AT&T/Cingular (5-7 years post-paid)
    -- Text msg content: Virgin Mobile (90 days)
    -- Pictures: T-Mobile (kept until deleted or service is cancelled; Verizon only tracks them if uploaded)
    -- Bill copies: Sprint and Nextel (7 years)
    -- Payment history: Sprint and Nextel (unlimited)
    -- Store surveillance videos: AT&T/Cingular (1-2 months)

    If anything, AT&T & Cingular hoard your data for a long time.
    spdragoo
  • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

    Big Brother: alive well, & happily digital.
    Kootenay Coyote
  • ...with Verizon, the largest network in the United States

    "Looking closely at the document, it is clear a disparity arises between the networks, with Verizon, the largest network in the United States, retaining data for the longest."

    Is there a bias against Verizon here? 3-5 days to hold text messages is not outrageous.

    As the author of the article, I would have stressed the big disparity on the call and text logs, where V retains this data the shortest.
    toxic psychotic avenger
    • RE: Cell networks hold customer data 'for years' for law enforcement use

      @toxic psychotic avenger This is exactly what i wast thinking.. the fact that AT&T is going to hold on to your cell tower data indefinitely i would consider much more infringing then the 3-5 days on texts..
      MallusLittera