Markey confronts law enforcement, DOJ over growing cellphone record requests

After investigations revealed a startling number of law enforcement requests for private cellphone data in recent years, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday released a discussion draft of legislation that would limit such digital searches and seizures.

As co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, Markey’s inquiry with nine major wireless carriers revealed that law enforcement officials at all levels of government made 1.3 million requests for user data from the companies in 2011. The responses also showed that the number of requests by law enforcement is increasing each year, in some cases by as much as 16 percent.

ADVERTISEMENT
In response, the Wireless Surveillance Act of 2012 would require law enforcement to provide regular disclosure of information on the requests and to obtain search warrants prior to conducting geolocation tracking. It would also mandate Federal Communications Commission regulations limiting how long wireless carriers keep consumers’ personal information.

“With searches and seizures now happening in cyberspace, this legislation will update the Fourth Amendment for the 21st century. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this critical legislation,” the representative stated in a press release.

Steven Titch, a policy analyst and telecommunications expert at the Reason Foundation, says “it remains to be seen” how well the bill, if signed into law, would hold up, “but I think it’s a good discussion to start. The more we can really create a framework ... for due process on information that’s out in cyberspace, the better it is.”

Markey has also written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking how law enforcement is handling the records of consumers, as well as what legal standard the Department of Justice believes to apply. According to his office’s press release, “The congressman is awaiting a response from DOJ.”