Gov't Says They Requested 24,270 Wiretaps In Total; Sprint Alone Says They Received Over 50k Requests

from the something-doesn't-add-up dept

We already wrote about how Ed Markey found out that law enforcement had made more than 1.3 million requests for subscriber info last year, and he's now published the detailed responses, which is turning up some scary information. First off, the numbers are clearly low, because (at the very least) T-Mobile refused to provide any numbers, stating:
While T‐Mobile does not disclose the number of requests we receive from law enforcement annually, the number of requests has risen dramatically in the last decade...
Perhaps more troubling may be the tidbit that Julian Sanchez noticed in Sprint's response (pdf), in which they admit to 52,029 court orders for wiretaps:
Over the past five years, Sprint has received approximately 52,029 court orders for wiretaps; 77,519 court orders for the installation of a pen register/trap and trace device; and 196,434 court orders for location information. [...] Over the same time frame Sprint received subpoenas from law enforcement agencies requesting basic subscriber information. Each subpoena typically requested subscriber information on multiple subscribers and last year alone we estimate that Sprint received approximately 500,000 subpoenas from law enforcement.
As Sanchez notes, this is problematic, because Sprint -- which is just the third largest mobile operator -- appears to be claiming more court orders for wiretaps than various officials reports to Congress of how many wiretaps had been sought in total. In other words, either Sprint's definition of "wirtetaps" is different than everyone else's, it's number is wrong... or... someone's been lying to Congress.

Certainly a report of 52,029 wiretaps over five years--and that just from the third largest carrier in the country--is remarkable in and of itself. But it’s also more than double the number of all wiretaps counted in annual reports required by federal law.  The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts keeps track of the number of wiretaps authorized each year for criminal investigations. The Justice Department files an annual report to Congress on individual warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for intelligence investigations. (If you don’t feel like wading through, The Electronic Privacy Information Center has charts and graphs that should make it clear.) The total number of all wiretaps counted in the official reports over the five year period 2007–2011 comes to 24,270. I’ve made a table breaking it down year by year:

 

YEAR
TITLE III (Criminal) Wiretap Orders
FISA (Intelligence) Wiretap Orders
2011 2,732 1,745
2010 3,795 1,579
2009 3,043 1,320
2008 2,631 2,083
2007 2,927 2,370
TOTAL 15,173 9,097

 

The obvious question: How is one cell phone carrier—and not the largest by a longshot—reporting 27,759 more wiretap orders than the official numbers acknowledge for all carriers?

That seems like a pretty big miss by someone...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 7:34am

    Is it a case of Federal Government only numbers vs. all government/law enforcement causing the difference?

     

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    jakerome (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    As above, I think it's likely the case that state & local police-- far more numerous than the Feds-- make far more requests for spying on customers. And I'd reckon with far less oversight and much less adherence to the law.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 7:44am

    Maybe it's because Sprint is counting "wirtetaps" (whatever those are), while the government is only counting regular "wiretaps".

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:34am

      Re:

      they're wiretapping things witth now wires to tap?

      Great, not the goverment fucked up so bad they broke reality. again

       

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    BeachBumCowboy (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 7:44am

    Differences

    Those numbers in the report clearly distinguish between Federal and State requests, so that's not the difference.
    But I can offer one reasonable explanation... The numbers reported to Congress were requests for actual criminal investigations. The numbers reported from Spring and the other Telcos were requests for harassment, curiosity and just plain good old fashioned fun!!!

     

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      fcp, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 10:29pm

      Re: Differences

      They distinguish between who is requesting, but it is "The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts" which is only federal. I would be surprised if they had any way to know about those requested/granted in other court systems.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:06am

    I am curious if cell companies are required by law to gather specific information concerning use of cell phones, and in particular tracking data? If so, what data must be gathered and what data is not? I honestly do not know where I would even begin to look in order to answer the questions.

     

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    Chin G Achgook, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:07am

    Bridge For Sale in Brooklyn NY

    I don't give any credence to anything any government says.

    They all lie.

     

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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    Remember, kids: how a survey is written can determine the outcome, and you can use it your advantage.

    Take the example above, where the words "court ordered" play a big part in the outcome.

     

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    Minimum Wage Shill, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:12am

    did you ever stop and think that maybe the police are requesting so many wiretaps because everyone is a criminal? When we have a nation of criminals what do you expect mike? they are just doing their jobs so be happy or else crime will even be worse and no criminals will be in jail and they will be out in the streets pirating everything.

     

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      Machin Shin (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      Well of course we are all criminals. Our stupid legal system makes it hard to make it till lunch without having committed some felony.

      It also sickens me though that in the US pretty much anything to do with drugs is a felony. Felons cannot run for president. So how is it we always have presidents that have no problem telling everyone they tried drugs when they were younger?

      If our legal system actually enforced the laws 100% then we would not be able to elect a new president. NO ONE lives in the USA and has made it to 35 without committing a felony. They might not have been convicted of it, BUT they have committed one.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re:

        That is the situation in a lot of countries. The most severe cases are dictatorships, like Ukraine and Iran, but I know no civilized country where every law is applied equally for all. The questions should be about the potential punishments for the crimes you are getting away with. I have the theory that the collective potential punishment you are getting away with over a year is correlated to how authoritarian the country is.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

        Re: Re:

        Yes and this is why the US is indistinguishable from a tryanny.

        If everyone is a criminal, anyone can be arrested, charged and convicted of something, and deprived of their freedom at the whim of those powerful enough to trigger individually targeted "aggressive enforcement".

        The US has rapidly descended to the point where law is barely if any less arbitary than the whims of the powerful.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:38am

    I think they use the same mathematicians as the the RIAA. Copyright Math Inc.

    Perhaps it's sort of like the law of conservation of mass "Matter can neither be created or destroyed" The inflated "Losses from Piracy" counter balance the deflated wiretap and censorship numbers.

     

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      A Guy (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 9:43am

      Re:

      Someone needs to update that in the text books. Both matter and energy can be created according to quantum mechanics. We just don't know how to do it yet. (and maybe we never will)

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 3:15pm

        Re: Re:

        I thought, from my limited understanding of QM, that you can create matter or energy but the net effect is still 0.

        Like you can create negative matter that has negative mass. Not to be confused with anti-matter, which still has positive mass.

        Matter + Anti-matter = Mass of both converted to energy (E=mc^2)
        Matter + Negative Matter = Mass of both cancel each other out, no energy released.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 3:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Uggg, I don't think that came out as clear as I hoped.

          I meant that you can create matter, but you also create negative matter at the same time.

          So you are creating something and a negative something from nothing.

          matter + negative matter = nothing
          1+(-1)=0

          Not that you are creating something from nothing

          matter = nothing
          +1=0


          But then again, the whole entanglement concept is way above my head =P

           

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            A Guy (profile), Jul 11th, 2012 @ 7:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Our understanding of QM is not perfect yet. My understanding is less perfect than others, but it's an interest.

            Energy is infinite. Differences in energy may coalesce into matter. The crux of it is that empty space is inherently unstable. Virtual particles pop into and out of existence randomly. Given the right (unknown) circumstances, a huge wave of energy could be released from empty space creating a universe and matter with it. That's the QM view of the big bang as I understand it.

            Anyway, creating matter seems to have happened at least once before. I'd like to thing we could maybe one day recreate something similar on a smaller scale to power our society, but right now that's more in the realm of science fiction than anything else.

             

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              A Guy (profile), Jul 11th, 2012 @ 8:31am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I'd like to think*

               

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              •  
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2012 @ 2:52pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I thought the QM view on the creation of the universe involved the theory that the results from experiments all work and explain physics in the time since the Big Bang, but that they can't explain what happened at or before the Big Bang. If you take the Big Bang as T = 0 (The starting point of time) that all experiments where T > 0 work, but they don't when you have T = 0 or T < 0. I'm guessing it's sort of like dividing by 0.

                If the universe dictates what the laws of physics are, you can't apply those laws outside of that universe. Since the universe didn't exist to begin with, neither did those laws, so you can't explain what happened unless you were an outside observer which we'd most likely refer to as God.

                I don't think we'll ever figure out how the universe was created. No more then a square would ever be able to understand what a cube was. I do think we will be able to learn more about what we can do within this universe though.

                 

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                  A Guy (profile), Jul 11th, 2012 @ 8:50pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Relativity says you cannot run time back to the instant of creation. QM helps explain what happens in a singularity, like the big bang. Right now relativity and QM don't agree with each other, so our understanding of the universe is imperfect.

                  As for God, don't look to science for proof of its existence or lack thereof. You won't find a meaningful answer. Science studies the how of creation, it cannot prove or disprove the existence of a creator.

                   

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 10:26pm

      Re:

      Glad I'm not the only one who considered this possibility.

      When you consider the amount of "musical chairs" that goes on between Hollywood and the government some overlap would be expected to occur.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:39am

    that's the trouble when someone can count and someone else cant

     

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    Whisk33, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:48am

    Units

    Maybe it's like the water bill and is /1,000 units. or instead of gpd it's taps/day.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:55am

    Perhaps the government numbers don't count state and local governments/cops requesting that info/wiretaps?

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:55am

    "The government is lying."

    Ummm. Water is wet? The sun rises in the east? The government's lips are moving?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 8:57am

    I'm guessing the the MPAA/RIAA taught them how to do math.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 9:19am

    Perhaps it is an issue of Sprint combining Federal, State, and Local requests into the same pile, while the other side is reporting only Federal requests.

     

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    snowburn14, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 10:22am

    Overlooked disturbing stat

    What I find more disturbing than the discrepancy between government and telco total numbers, is just how close the numbers requested are to those granted in the government reports (from http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/Statistics/WiretapReports/2011/Table7.pdf). There were never more than 2 requests in a year that weren't authorized from 2001-2011. While I understand the need for wiretaps in a great many cases, it defies belief that nearly every single tap that was requested was justified. Maybe the government is just selectively ignoring a category of unauthorized requests (which could actually explain both the % I'm concerned about and the discrepancy with the telcos), but I can't see why they'd bother to split out the numbers if they're really only using the authorized piece anyway...

     

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    Violated (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 11:09am

    That damned decimal point

    They have always said...

    If good news multiply the number by 10 but if bad news divide the number by 10.

    As we can consider wire taps to be bad news then we can correct for this Feds adjustment by making their stated value 10 times higher or... 24,270 to... 242,700.

    Now to really scare you this is most likely TRUE. If they are caught out they can just blame a decimal point slip on their computer calculation.

     

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      Al Bert (profile), Jul 10th, 2012 @ 11:41am

      Re: That damned decimal point

      It's the computer's fault! We need new cyberintegrity legislation to regulate all digital representations of data and ideas to ensure their correctness!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2012 @ 1:51pm

    I'm pretty sure Hollywood accounting gets all it's extra numbers by stealing them from government accountants.

     

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    Laroquod (profile), Jul 11th, 2012 @ 1:42am

    See the thing is, politicians actually lie

    In other words, either Sprint's definition of "wiretaps" is different than everyone else's, its number is wrong... or... someone's been lying to Congress.


    ... or... Congress has been lying to someone. Why overlook the obvious?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

    Boy, Jimmy, Bunk and Lester have been busy, havent they

     

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