Many major cellular-service providers track and retain customers' cell-phone information for years, according to a Justice Department document released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
All the major companies keep information on the exact cell towers used by a phone for as long as two years, potentially allowing them to track a person’s general movement, the ACLU says.
The ACLU, which got the document through a Freedom of Information Act request, said it was compiled to advise law enforcement about what records are available.
A few takeaways from the document, available on the ACLU website:
- Verizon keeps subscriber information for three to five years; it holds on to call records, text-message details, and cell-tower information for one rolling year. The provider keeps text-message content for three to five days.
- AT&T retains call records for five to seven years as well as cell-tower information (since July 2008) and text-message details. It doesn’t retain any text-message content.
- Sprint holds on to subscriber information for an unlimited amount of time. It preserves call records and cell-tower information for 18 to 24 months. It does not retain text-message content.
- T-Mobile keeps subscriber information for five years. Call records and cell-tower information are kept for 18 to 24 months.
The document also detailed information kept by Nextel and Virgin Mobile.
The ACLU has been pressing law-enforcement officials to explain to what extent they are using cell-phone data to track Americans.
“All too often, the government is taking advantage of outdated privacy laws to get its hands on this valuable private information by demanding it without a warrant,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The public has a right to know how and under what circumstances their location information is being accessed by the government – and that is exactly what we hope our information requests will uncover.”