Sprint: Telco's Law Enforcement Cooperation Misrepresented

In a fact Sprint doesn't deny, law enforcement officials pinged a site designed to facilitate locational searches 8 million times in a 13-month period.

Blogger and Internet privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian caused a stir Dec. 1 with the disclosure that Sprint has opened a new portal to help law enforcement officials track the GPS location of its customers. According to a surreptitious voice recording made by Soghoian and published on his blog, Sprint's Electronic Surveillance Manager Paul Taylor said the site had been "pinged" more than 8 million times in a 13-month period.
Soghoian is a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University's School of Informatics and Computing with research in data security and privacy, cyber-law, and surveillance policy, as well as phishing and other forms of applied deception.
"This data and the analysis I draw from it will be a major component of my PhD dissertation, and as such, I am releasing it in order to receive constructive criticism on my theories from other experts in the field," Soghoian wrote on his blog.
Sprint did not deny the number but in a statement said it was "grossly misrepresented. The figure does not represent the number of customers whose location information was provided to law enforcement, as this blogger suggests." In fact, Sprint said, the number represents the cumulative number of times Sprint phones have reported their locations to state, local and national law enforcement officials.
Sprint also stressed when law enforcement officials track a GPS-enabled phone, thousands of pings might be involved. The company also pointed out that the 8 million number also represents 911 call tracking and missing person tracking. Sprint also said it requires a subpoena before GPS tracking of a customer.
Soghoian obtained the Taylor voice recording after wrangling an invitation to a closed-door conference to ISS World (Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Gathering), where law enforcement and intelligence officials meet with telephone and equipment manufacturers about electronic surveillance technology and practices.
Taylor said on the recording that law enforcement officials have embraced Sprint's new site.
"We turned it on the Web interface for law enforcement about one year ago last month, and we just passed 8 million requests. So there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone," Taylor said. "So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement. They also love that it is extremely inexpensive to operate and easy, so, just the sheer volume of requests they anticipate us automating other features, and I just don't know how we'll handle the millions and millions of requests that are going to come in."