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?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Vincent Clement (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 5:57am

    I like the "Law Enforcement Use Only" statement. Yes, because we wouldn't want customers to know how long data is being retained for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Dementia (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 6:32am

    Its a DOJ document, that's why its labeled For Law Enforcement Use Only. I don't think it would be that difficult to obtain the information by contacting your carrier. The difficult part would be determining who to talk to at the carrier. I doubt your average customer support rep would know this info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    The eejit (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 7:24am

    Nice to see that Verizon loves "open" information storage...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    New Mexico Mark, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 7:32am


    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 8:02am


    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)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 9:48am

    Why do you need a law Mike? Shouldn't the market place decide, by voting with the money, as to who they will deal with on this issue?

    Or is the public's opinion meaningless when you think you can stick it to the man?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    John D (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 10:10am


    Before Virgin was acquired by Sprint, they were an MVNO operating on Sprint's network. I wonder, then, if the rules are cascading - if an MVNO (like Boost Mobile) uses a company's back end, does the host company still maintain those records themselves?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    SiliconJon (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 11:01am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    hmm (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 11:26am

    why the differences

    Why are there differences in the retention periods depending HOW you pay your bills?

    Do terrorists like pay-as-you-go but law abiding citizens don't?????

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 11:43am


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Really?

    I'm not aware of the Kwame case at all, but if there was a warrant, the police could intercept all the messages, calls, data, and IP activity, and retain it indefinitely themselves as evidence.

    The list the Masnick presents here is just what the carriers keep when there is no warrant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:17pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re:

    Well for personal stuff I don't need carriers, I just use normal internet encrypted channels that they don't have access to.

    Family, members close business associates, the "phone" is just for people I don't know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:41pm

    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.
    http://www (OpenBTS) /?page=FAQen

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

    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)."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 9:50pm


    Why do you need a law Mike? Shouldn't the market place decide, by voting with the money, as to who they will deal with on this issue?

    Your need to troll every post should at least involve an attempt to read the post first. I did not call for a law, nor support a law in this post. Exactly the opposite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Fred Flinestone, Feb 18th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Verizon Call detail

    I think this post needs to be updated. I am currently looking at a report of my call detail and it goes back at least 16 months.. where this document says a rolling year..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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