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Is the Digital Data Boom Creating a Surveillance State?

A new Congressional inquiry has found that 1.3 million requests were made by law enforcement officials last year for cellphone subscriber information, including geo-location information. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Local, state and federal law enforcement officials made 1.3 million demands for cellphone subscriber information last year, according to a Congressional inquiry created to address the matter. It seems that, thanks to the boom in digital data activity, authorities are becoming reliant on digital surveillance to conduct investigations. “The data turned over include geo-location information, based on cell tower and Global Positioning System coordinates; calls made and received; text message content; and wiretap information,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) who requested the information from carriers, including records on ‘cell tower’ dumps, in which carriers provide authorities with data on cellphone use near a specific cell tower. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The increase in digital surveillance requests contrasts sharply with traditional wiretaps, which were only authorized 3,000 times in 2010, although the two surveillance techniques serve the same purpose of intercepting communication between individuals. The practice of collecting data from companies that indiscriminately store their users’ data is prompting debate about legal standards and privacy protections. According to the Congressional inquiry, “carriers have turned down requests they deem to be unwarranted or not backed up by the required degree of legal justification.” 

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