My GettingLost Blog
Do You Value Your Privacy? Wireless Carriers Don’t

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Apparently, wireless carriers don’t care about your privacy.  California has proposed a law (Senate Bill 1434) that will require government entities, such as law enforcement, to obtain a search warrant before being provided location and other information from your wireless phone. In other words, as to a very basic and simple example, if the police wanted to know where your phone is, they would have to present a warrant that contains “probable cause” (more likely than not) evidence to a Magistrate as to why they want the location of your phone. If the Magistrate agrees, the warrant gets issued. If not, no warrant. To a certain extent, your rights have been protected as the police are not allowed to go straight to a wireless carrier and obtain whatever they want.

Guess who is against the proposed law? That’s right, the wireless carriers. The CTIA – an international trade association for the wireless telecommunications industry representing wireless carriers – has sent a letter to the California Senator who proposed the bill advising that they oppose the proposed law. The reason stated in the letter as to why the CTIA is opposed to the proposed law is that they believe that the law might “create confusion for wireless providers and hamper their response to legitimate law enforcement investigations.” The CTIA also stated that the “definitions within SB 1434 are so overly broadly that they could create confusion for wireless providers attempting to respond to legitimate law enforcement requests.” The CTIA specifically mentions the definition of “location information” in their letter. Well, let’s just see how confusing the definition really is:

(d) “Location information” means information, concerning the location of an electronic device that, in whole or in part, is generated, derived from, or obtained by the operation of an electronic device.

Just in case the CTIA was confused and meant “location information service,” let’s look at that definition as well:

(e) “Location information service” means the provision of a global positioning service or other mapping, locational, or directional information service.

Nope, both look pretty straightforward to me. Maybe they are confused as to what an electronic device is. Let’s take a look at that definition:

(b) “Electronic device” means a device that enables access to, or use of, an electronic communication service, remote computing service, or location information service.

Again, it seems pretty straightforward to me. If the definitions are not confusing, then that leaves two possible conclusions: either they do not care about your privacy or they do not want the current way of how they conduct business to change. Or, maybe it is both? Or, could the answer lie within the other part of the proposed law?

The second part of the proposed law would require the wireless carriers to compile annual reports that basically provide the number of federal and state warrants requesting location services and the total number of disclosures made by the wireless providers. As to this information, the wireless carriers would also have to provide more detailed information such as the number of times they disclosed information (not limited to warrant requests), the number of times they did not disclose any information, the number of times they contested releasing the information, and the number of users whose location information was disclosed. Here is the kicker: the annual reports must be made available to the public on the Internet in a searchable format on or before March 1st of each year. The CTIA claims that this requirement would be “onerous and costly.” They further claim that it is “unclear what useful purpose such reports would serve that if the wireless carriers are forced to provide this information.” Really? Sorry, but I beg to differ. The CTIA knows exactly what purpose this information would serve if they were forced to release it. It is called being accountable to your customers. Let me explain.

If there is not a law that requires a warrant, the police can basically fill out a form from the wireless carrier and obtain your “location information” for no other reason other than they want it. With this information, they can track where you have been, whom you have called, and who has called you. They can obtain this information without you ever knowing. Now throw in the requirement of having to obtain a warrant. The police have to have probable cause and a Magistrate agree that the probable cause is sufficient and justified. Despite whether you ever find out if a warrant was issued, at least there is a layer of protection to your privacy. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

As to how this relates to the CTIA, let me ask you this question: if the wireless carriers had to disclose how many times they released their customers “location information,” do you think they would do it as often and without a warrant? It is called accountability. And right now, under the current system as to this information, there is no accountability with the wireless carriers.

It is time to put an end to governmental intrusion into our private information without obtaining a warrant. It is time to hold the wireless carriers accountable for their actions as to our private information. Requiring warrants has to become standard, not only in California, but in every state. Requiring wireless carriers to disclose how often they have released their customers “location information” also has to become standard practice. This is not just a California issue. This is an issue for every state and every individual who owns a wireless device. If you value your privacy, get involved! It is obvious that the wireless carriers could care less.