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Markey 'deeply concerned' about police tracking of mobile phones

Markey, who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus and could regain the chairmanship of the House telecommunications subcommittee if Democrats retake the House in November, expressed his concerns in a letter sent to executives at U.S. Cellular, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA Inc., Leap Wireless Inc./ Cricket Communications Inc., MetroPCS, Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T, C Spire Wireless, and TracFone Wireless.

The letters were prompted by a New York Times article that said law enforcement routinely tracks mobile phones “often with little or no judicial oversight.”

The article also explains how wireless companies profit from the practice by charging police departments for tracking and wiretapping services.

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“I am deeply concerned about possible privacy intrusions, particularly in the absence of consumer knowledge or consent, or judicial oversight,” Markey said.

Markey goes on to ask how many surveillance requests AT&T has received over the past five years, how many were fulfilled or denied and the reason for any denials.

“Information gleaned from mobile phone use should be accessible for appropriate law enforcement purposes,” Markey said in a statement. 

"We need more information about current wireless carrier practices in this area, including how firms may be profiting from consumers’ personal data," he added. 

The letters also ask about the procedures companies have in place for processing law enforcement requests, such as whether the companies ask to see a warrant before cooperating and whether they distinguish between emergencies and routine requests.

Other questions concern how many employees are devoted to law enforcement requests, whether companies help police obtain tracking equipment of their own and how much money was earned as a result of charging law enforcement for these types of services. 

The Supreme Court recently ruled that law enforcement's tracking of a person by GPS is unconstitutional without a warrant.