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Cops Can Find the Location of Any Phone in the Country in Seconds, and a Senator Wants to Know Why

On Thursday, the New York Times published a blockbuster piece revealing how US law enforcement have access to a system that can geo-locate nearly any phone in the country without an officer necessarily having a court order. Now, Motherboard has obtained the letters that Senator Ron Wyden sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and telecommunications companies demanding answers on the controversial surveillance system.

“I am writing to insist that AT&T take proactive steps to prevent the unrestricted disclosure and potential abuse of private customer data, including real-time location information, by at least one other company to the government,” a May 8 letter sent from Wyden to the President and Chief Executive Officer of AT&T reads.

According to the New York Times report, a former sheriff of Mississippi County, Mo., used an obscure service called Securus to surveill targets’ cell phones, including a judge and other law enforcement officials. That system is typically used by marketers to obtain location data from mobile carriers. As well as AT&T, the system can exploit data from Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, and law enforcement can essentially self-certify that they have legal authorisation to use the service, the report suggests.

In his letter to AT&T, which has similar text to letters sent to other carriers, Wyden writes that this check amounts of “nothing more than the legal equivalent of a pinky promise.”

“The fact that Securus provides this service at all suggests that AT&T does not sufficiently control access to your customers’ private information,” the letter adds.

Wyden then lays out several steps for carriers to follow, such as undertaking an audit of each third party they sell customer data to, to determine how the company uses that data; notify customers whose location information was disclosed without their consent; terminate relationships with third parties that have misrepresented customer consent or abused their access to sensitive customer data; and provide a service for customers to view a list of third parties their…READ FULL STORY