ACLU: New ways Verizon, T-Mobile and law enforcement work together to spy on you

The ACLU keeps a watchful eye on surveillance techniques and cell phone location tracking used by law enforcement, but today released more documents about how telecommunication companies and law enforcement work together to spy on American citizens. Some of the mobile phone electronic stakeout techniques have no court oversight.

Voicemail cloning:

We’ll start with the most disturbing examples such as cloning voicemail. A person would never know it was happening, nevertheless realize the monitoring was happening in real-time with handy-dandy date and time-stamps. When activated, if person receives voicemail, each voice message is duplicated and deposited into a “special mailbox assigned to the designated investigating agency.” T-Mobile was the only wireless carrier the ACLU mentioned that requires law enforcement to get a wiretap order for cloned mailboxes.

Copying existing voicemail to a different account:

T-Mobile does not always require a warrant and will accept a “lesser court order,” even though it doesn’t say what kind, to copy existing voice messages to a separate account. “A dial-in number and PIN for the separate account will be provided to law enforcement, and law enforcement may review, save, or delete any message in that account without the subscriber's knowledge.” The downside to this method for investigators is that it tampers with the forensic evidence. The original date/time-stamp is lost and is instead replaced with the date/time the message was moved.

Resetting voicemail PIN:

Verizon and T-Mobile allow law enforcement to reset the voicemail PIN. If this happens to you, you’ll know because your voicemail password will no longer work. Verizon specifies that law enforcement can only request a “Voicemail Pass Code Reset” in instances where there is “immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to a person.” T-Mobile will reset the passcode in investigations as well as in emergencies.

Verizon smorgasbord for law enforcement mobile/landline spying:

Law enforcement and wireless carriers working together to spy on your mobile phone communications

Verizon offers a smorgasbord of mobile phone and landline spying choices for law enforcement. For example, the ACLU reported that Verizon can change the number for a landline, but give the new number only to law enforcement. It can also make it so that if a landline calls out, it “automatically dials a designated law enforcement number – and no one else.” In order to try and “force a number out of service” or "prevent any outgoing calls," law enforcement agents can request that Verizon “prevent all outgoing calls or do various things to force a number out of service—from straight-up interrupting a call to sending a 3-decibel sound on the phone line to irritate the caller so he/she hangs up.” Furthermore, Verizon will do this for “any law enforcement agent who provides the phone number and address for the target phone and his or her own name, dispatch number, and contact information.”

The ACLU also noted that a Qwest document from Omaha, Nebraska, revealed the ability to "limit a phone line to incoming calls only and can also change the subscriber’s telephone number” in emergency situations.

We already know that wireless carriers gave 1.3 million customer cell phone records to law enforcement in 2011. Additionally, the ACLU discovered that the “government is routinely violating American’s privacy rights through warrantless cell phone tracking.” Last week, the ACLU released FOIA documents from the Justice Department which revealed that between 2009 and 2011, the number of pen register and trap-and-trace orders skyrocketed 361 percent. A pen register order allows real-time surveillance of “non-content” outbound information such as the sender and recipient of emails as well as what phone numbers are dialed. Trap-and-trace orders do the opposite, grabbing the inbound communications of a target. The ACLU wrote, “More people were subjected to pen register and trap and trace surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade.”

When you add in the new documents obtained by the ACLU that “shed light" on other ways wireless carriers allow surveillance, and the history of abuse and illegal surveillance, the ACLU noted, “As technology gets smarter and smarter, we need to make sure that legal protections keep pace.”

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