Tuesday, April 12, 2011

U.S. Police Increasingly View Private Email, Instant Messages

Jeremy Kirk writes on ComputerWorld:

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."

That's in contrast to traditional wiretaps and "pen registers," which record non-content data around a particular communication, such as the number dialed or e-mail address that a communication was sent to. The U.S. Congress mandates that it should receive reports on these requests, which are compiled by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Soghoian wrote.

More here.


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