You know those annoying Alltel “My Circle” ads? Today I’m wondering why the chubby guy who represents Sprint in the ads hasn’t lost a ton of weight. The question arises because evidently he and his friends at Sprint have been pretty busy. “Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009.”
The report comes from data security and privacy expert Christopher Soghoian, who says he learned of it in October at a conference in Washington. What conference? One that bills itself as “the world’s largest gathering of North American, Caribbean and Latin American Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Homeland Security Analysts and Telecom Operators responsible for lawful interception, electronic investigations and network Intelligence gathering.”
Soghoian looks at the background and related electronic surveillance issues in great detail on his blog. Ultimately, it also explains why the chubby guy is still chubby. Seems Sprint created a special web interface for law enforcement agencies that evidently automates the process of them getting customer GPS info. Sprint’s manager of electronic surveillance said this approach makes life much better for Sprint because “there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone.”
Simple math says 8 million requests over the course of 13 months means an average of 20,202 queries a day, or roughly one every four seconds. Not only is that just one cell phone company, it is only GPS data, not text messages, call information or basic customer information.
Even the thought a cell phone company actually has or needs a position called manager of electronic surveillance causes me pause. So it doesn’t help to see that law enforcement agencies “love” the interface and anticipate Sprint “automating other features.” I bet Sprint subscribers can hardly wait.
(H/T to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its exploration of the ramifications of this news.)
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.
George Orwell, 1984