This article ignores the existence of the NSA’s large scale, warrantless intercept program that’s running inside the U.S.
Law enforcement organizations are making tens of thousands of requests for private electronic information from companies such as Sprint, Facebook and AOL, but few detailed statistics are available, according to a privacy researcher.
Police and other agencies have “enthusiastically embraced” asking for e-mail, instant messages and mobile-phone location data, but there’s no U.S. federal law that requires the reporting of requests for stored communications data, wrote Christopher Soghoian, a doctoral candidate at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, in a newly published paper.
“Unfortunately, there are no reporting requirements for the modern surveillance methods that make up the majority of law enforcement requests to service providers and telephone companies,” Soghoian wrote. “As such, this surveillance largely occurs off the books, with no way for Congress or the general public to know the true scale of such activities.”
If law enforcement wants to intercept e-mail or instant messages in real-time, they are required to report it. Since 1997, federal law enforcement has requested real-time intercepts only 67 times, with state law enforcement agents obtaining 54 intercept orders.
Soghoian wrote that those low figures may seem counterintuitive given the real-time nature of electronic communications. But all of the communications are stored, he noted.
“It is often cheaper and easier to do it after the fact rather than in real-time,” Soghoian wrote.
Cox Communications, a major U.S. service provider, charges $3,500 for a wiretap and $2,500 for a pen register. Account information, however, costs a mere $40.
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