DOJ Document Shows How Long Telcos Hold Onto Your Data

from the a-long,-long-time dept

With the Justice Department believing that it can get all sorts of data from telcos without any oversight or without a warrant, it seems rather important to know what kind of info your mobile operator is keeping — and for how long. The ACLU, via a Freedom of Information Act request, was able to get a “for law enforcement use only” document that shows how long the carriers hold on to what data (Wired also notes that the document could already be found online if you knew the title). The document itself is a pretty weak scan:

Thankfully, however, now that the data is out there, we can show it friendlier formats. Michael Robertson was kind enough to take the data (minus the “for law enforcement use only” part, and put it into a Google docs spreadsheet:

Additionally, the folks at Wired put together a nice infographic from the data:
What it seems to show is that Verizon holds onto your texting data for the least amount of time, but also retains the actual text of your text messages — something no one else, outside of Virgin Mobile, does. How long until we see a push for a mobile data retention law to “standardize” what these companies have to hang onto and for how long?

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Companies: at&t, sprint, t-mobile, verizon wireless

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Comments on “DOJ Document Shows How Long Telcos Hold Onto Your Data”

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New Mexico Mark says:

Re: Re:

This deals with internal IT policy at several companies, so it gets messy. However, I’m pretty sure that, “Because we care about our customers!” is a frequent punchline in their office jokes.

The bottom line? Whether it involves the companies or the DOJ, lawyers get involved, and that means actions are always predicated on the legal version of the Hippocratic oath they must affirm before passing the bar:

Here’s to you, here’s to me
May we never disagree
But if we do, to hell with you
Here’s to me

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:


A) I am surprised they don’t retain stuff for longer.
B) I thought they retained copies of all the texts we send? Isn’t that how they got copies of all the texts Kwame Kilpatrick sent when the crook worked for Detroit? Maybe I am mistaken on that detail. Or would the text in the text messages somehow be considered text message details, and not text message content? (I really got the impression it was text message content from virgin mobile’s text message content box)

SiliconJon (profile) says:

Re: Really?

I’m curious as to why they would even need to retain this for law enforcement purposes if the “Big Brother” boxes are functional. Perhaps as a backup resource, or a place to go for lesser law enforcement personnel? I could see them retaining it for analytical or marketing purposes – since that is the thing these days. But so long as the NSA data duplicators are running it seems a cable run to the fusion centers should be an easy centralization technique for them to use, and all is stored for as long as they desire, which is usually until a FOIA request or criminal investigation is sparked, in which case it’s either destroyed or (more likely) moved and relabelled.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

okay, I will vote with my wallet and go to the service provider that doesn’t track me, doesn’t retain my private call information and has a track record of not handing my information out to any party that may be “interested” in it.

Which is none of them, hmm. Well I guess I can go with T-mobile, who seems to at least be trying. No, wait, they’re going to be owned by AT&T soon, funny how that works. I guess it’s time to not have a phone because the market is specifically set up to favor a few large mega-corporations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hmmm…on the bright side, Femtocells may be the out for the public, with enough of them they can create their own cell networks in any city.

Some clever people have already noticed that potential.

You don’t need powerfull stations, you need a lot of smaller ones that can cover every inch of a city. (OpenBTS)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Angry With The Carriers

You see, THIS is the kind of stuff that makes me angry with the carriers. Invasions of privacy. The fact that this info is not disclosed to the customers.

If you lost an important Text message, do you think YOU could go to Verizon and have access to that archived information. No, silly customer. They don’t retain it for YOU.

I’m often at Techdirt sticking up for the carriers, because people lob mistaken accusations at them, like “Why doesn’t AT&T invest in their network?!” But here’s a list of things that should make you angry:

– unnecessary retention of your data, messages, etc.

– lack of disclosure as to what your privacy rights are, how they comply with law enforcement, how hard they resist to protect your privacy.

– lack of resistance to protect your privacy

– compliance with warrantless wiretapping, for which congress gave them retroactive immunity

– most of their lobbying activity, which focuses on protecting oligopoly advantage

– SIM locking MY phone, when we already have a contract with early termination fees. Yes, the phone is subsisized, but that’s because I signed your contract. It’s MY phone now. I’m OK with ETFs and contracts, but then locking the phone is like tying me up with a belt AND suspenders.

– Charging extra for tethering. How is data passed through my phone different to the carrier than data passed TO my phone? I suppose with an unlimited plan, I can understand how tethering is like two people eating for one price at the all-you-can-eat buffet. But if you cap my service (which is fair), then you can’t tell me what I can do with my 5GB!

– Stop stuffing our bills. Stop acting like YOUR business expenses are government fees.

– Figure out your billing, and don’t waste so much of my time explaining your mistakes to you on the phone. I don’t want to educate you about the difference between .01 dollars and 1 dollar. I don’t want to pay twice for calls when I was roaming: once at 3:23PM in NYC, and once at 12:23PM for the same call from San Francisco. I don’t want to teach you about time zones.

I’m sure there are more. Let’s not waste our voices on tangential (incorrect) issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't be afraid, DIY and start getting out of the telco adiction.

“In plain language, we are working on a new kind of cellular network that can be installed and operated at about 1/10 the cost of current technologies, but that will still be compatible with most of the handsets that are already in the market. This technology can also be used in private network applications (wireless PBX, rapid deployment, etc.) at much lower cost and complexity than conventional cellular. “

“Deva Seetharam, an engineer at sensor company TagSense in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ran into this problem while developing RFID readers for commercial cellphones. “There is no freedom for users, researchers and hackers to build anything,” Seetharam says. “So I said, OK, I’ll build something so people can customise the phones the way they want.” Seetharam teamed up with Patel to build their own handset, which they named TuxPhone after Tux, Linux’s penguin mascot.”

“…flexible off-the grid deployment due to low power requirements that enable local generation via solar or wind; explicit support for local services within the village that can be autonomous relative to a national carrier; novel power/coverage trade-offs based on intermittency that can provide bursts of wider coverage; and a portfolio of data and voice services (not just GSM).”

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