Wireless Industry Association Opposes Bill That Would Require Warrant For Them To Turn Data Over To Law Enforcement

from the do-they-not-care-about-their-users? dept

You would think that it would be in the mobile operators’ best interest to protect their own customers’ privacy and to stand up for their basic rights. You would think, but apparently you’d be wrong. It appears that CTIA — the mobile operators’ industry association — is opposing an effort in California to require mobile operators to require a warrant before disclosing personal info. The bill also requires some basic reporting requirements for the companies, having them say how often info has been disclosed (hardly onerous info to track). Basically, the law asks that the mobile operators respect the 4th Amendment when dealing with law enforcement — something that the federal government has been successfully chipping away at for years.

But the CTIA is against all of this (pdf), claiming that it would be “confusing” for mobile operators.

… the wireless industry opposes SB 1434 as it could create greater confusion for wireless providers when responding to legitimate law enforcement requests

The crux of the “confusion” apparently is that the definitions in the bill are somewhat broader than what the industry says is standard, and they’re afraid that this means “It could place providers in the position of requiring warrants for all law enforcement requests.” I’m struggling to see what the problem is here. What’s wrong with requiring warrants?

The letter also fails to explain why the reporting requirements would be so “burdensome,” other than the claim that providers already “are working day and night to assist law enforcement to ensure the public’s safety and to save lives.” So, if I read this right, they’re arguing that they’re already so busy responding to law enforcement that telling users that your personal data is being handed over to the government willy nilly is, you know, too much effort.

The ACLU is calling out the industry for this move — noting that it seems to have no problem spending all these resources passing on all of our info — why can’t it spend a little defending its subscribers’ rights too?

California is supposed to vote on this bill shortly. Hopefully, the state sees through these baseless claims from CTIA.

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Comments on “Wireless Industry Association Opposes Bill That Would Require Warrant For Them To Turn Data Over To Law Enforcement”

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Jay (profile) says:

More to the story...

It seems there’s more to this story than at first viewing. CTIA and ALEC are very closely knit where ALEC passes legislation to politicians for passing. The mobile phone industry profits from less restrictions on user data. They can pass that data on to the government who pays through taxpayer money (think Intel-Q, who funds the NSA with venture capitol) for access. So effectively they are incentivized not to care about customers, but care about their bottom lines.

Of course, ALEC has been taking a lot of flak for the Stand Your Ground laws as well as even IRS proceedings from the fact that they have been lobbying Congress for over 40 years with legislation meant to benefit companies such as AT&T, Walmart, or CTIA regardless of what the public wants.

Sure, we can criticize CTIA here and put their feet to the fire. But with a company such as ALEC in the picture, I would look at who is being funded by these two groups to kill this legislation. It would not surprise me that you’ll see money being given to oppose this legislation and give those funded talking points that closely align with CTIA’s agenda here. And in the middle of it, ALEC would have set up the meeting between CTIA lobbyists and politicians to pass a bill to kill this legislation.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

The reason is liability

The reason why the CTIA is fighting this law likely has zip to do with “confusion in the trenches”, but more likely one of liability if they release such data without a warrant being presented, which is their current SOP. The police are likely to be against the bill for similar reasons, plus the burden on them of obtaining a warrant and then delivering it to the phone company in question.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Reporting Requirements

I like this bill except for the reporting requirements part. Why should the carriers have to report when and what data they give to the police? I’d rather the police have to report when they request your data instead. It just seems so much easier. I’d rather the onus be on those requesting the data. Maybe they’d start to think twice about requesting more if the cost comes out of their budget.

Jon B. (profile) says:

I’m struggling to see what the problem is here. What’s wrong with requiring warrants?

They probably don’t want to put their employees in a position where the employee requires a warrant according to the law as he understands it, but the employee is incorrect that ends creating an obstruction charge.

Of course, you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but that’s probably the reason.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

More to the story...

That’s a very good point about ALEC. They’re behind most of the worst legislation working being pushed by Republican legislatures and governors nationwide. They see a small window of opportunity where they can get the bulk of their agenda through before states start throwing the bums out, as Wisconsin is trying to do right now.

These “Stand Your Ground and Kill a Black Guy” laws are just the most well-known of ALEC’s ugly agenda. They’re also behind the “Evolution is Just a Theory” changes to school curricula and “Global Warming isn’t Real” school board changes. ALEC will even support extreme right-wing school board candidates, creating the first instances of SuperPAC involvement in local school board elections.

These are really, really bad guys. They do not have our best interests at heart. It’s good news that the Trayvon Martin case brought them out into the sunlight and has gotten a lot of very big corporations to back out of supporting ALEC.

Fin says:

I hope its just a case of not wanting the paperwork in which case i support them. The police should be held more accountable for information requests so they only ask with reasonable case and if the information they receive doesn’t tie up then they shouldn’t ask for more without more physical evidence / additional concerns. If they do they should be penalised, named and shamed.

Jay (profile) says:

More to the story...

There’s two concerns I have here.

1) They’ve done a ton of damage with the SYG laws.

2) The work to undo their damage is far from over.

The SYG is already on the books in over 30 different states through heavy funding of Republicans to pass these laws. That’s one of the myriad reasons why Scott Walker is so vilified in Wisconsin. He takes money from teachers in order to give to crony capitalism.

This does not change how the law has been very devastating against people who are victims to this bought legislation. ALEC’s legislation disparages against human life with Voter ID laws (discriminate against the poor and middle class), extreme gun laws (Trayvon Martin) and even lobbying on corporate businesses (AT&T is their largest constituent along with Wal-Mart).

So the fact is, we need to expose CTIA and ALEC. They are going to act in their own interest and that works against the public good.

c.meyer (profile) says:

Its the same old "confusion"

There was a report on slashdot today that I was reading that talked about an ACLU inquest into the pricing structures that law enforcement agencies get from wireless carriers. Basically, the carriers are making money by releasing customer usage records, call logs, emails, texts, pictures, yadda yadda yadda, and they don’t want this to stop. Quite a few law enforcement agencies are doing this carte blanche. I can’t find the slashdot article at this time, but here is one from msnbc’s tech group:


Once again, money trumps responsibility…

Anonymous Coward says:


The right answer for that is have a special protocol where the issuing of the warrant is delayed, once the time constraint passes a judge most look over it and grant the warrant after the fact, where if he is afraid of putting his name on that warrant the police officers should be held responsible for what they did if it was improper, like claiming it was a case of life and death when they wanted to stalk their wifes trying to run away from them because of domestic abuse.

Jake (profile) says:


The way to judge it is to get a warrant. Does it take time, yes. Can bad things happen, yes. But the US is premised on the notion that it is better to error on the side of freedom. One of the most famous Benjamin Franklin Quotes is:

“He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.”

So yes it sucks that bad things CAN happen, but if we allow our freedoms to be slowly chipped away, bad things WILL happen.

AJBarnes says:


It was a long time ago, but it used to be that any disclosure of customer information in California was done with a court order or search warrant signed by a judge, not simply a Supoena signed by a clerk. This should be required in all jurisdictions so that it makes it a bit harder for law enforcement to go on fishing trips.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

It goes both ways

Horrible analogy, but true. It is already fairly trivial to spoof a cell phone tower and log everything that passes through before sending it out on the network, not to mention the ability to use the phone’s GPS to get location data remotely.

Hell, Sprint has a $5/month service where you can ping a phone and get it’s GPS coordinates anytime it’s on and connected to the network.

velox says:

As noted by Jay, Lobo Santo, and some AC’s, the wireless industry opposes the requirement for a warrant because the requirement will result in fewer law enforcement requests for user data and therefore the wireless carriers would not be able to sell as much of it.
I’m not sure however that you need to include ALEC in the discussion to understand the wireless carriers’ motivations. The fact that Verizon has contributed to ALEC doesn’t necesarily mean that ALEC is behind this.

Jake (profile) says:


The thing is in this day and age getting a warrant should not take that long. All you need is a system where there are several federal judges whose job is to issue these warrants. Cops can electronically file requests to these judges and they can be approved or denied within minutes, making the safety impact minimal at a fairly negligible cost when looking at government budgets. Therefore there should be no need to violate privacy in this situation.

I pulled out the Franklin quote as an easy way of making this point.

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