Have you ever heard of a tech company called Neustar? Probably not, and that’s just the way the government wants to keep it. Neustar is a relatively new company that is playing a large, albeit secret, role in the expansion of the surveillance state. According to published reports, Neustar handles the law enforcement surveillance and user data requests for over 400 telecommunications companies. To accommodate their clients’ demands, Neustar maintains a database containing information on every cell phone in the United States — including yours.
As The New American reported recently, in a report issued by cellphone carriers, the mobile phone providers indicated that last year they received 1.3 million demands from “law enforcement agencies” for access to the text messages and locations of subscribers to the cellphone companies’ service. A New York Times article covering the report provided the following breakdown of the requests for information received by the various cell companies:
AT&T alone now responds to an average of more than 700 requests a day, with about 230 of them regarded as emergencies that do not require the normal court orders and subpoena. That is roughly triple the number it fielded in 2007, the company said. Law enforcement requests of all kinds have been rising among the other carriers as well, with annual increases of between 12 percent and 16 percent in the last five years. Sprint, which did not break down its figures in as much detail as other carriers, led all companies last year in reporting what amounted to at least 1,500 data requests on average per day.
As for the police, they insist that using a cell signal or a record of text messages or data received or sent using a phone makes tracking a person so much simpler. An interview with a member of law enforcement included in the Times article is very enlightening as to the desire on the part of police to keep this weapon in their arsenal.
"At every crime scene, there’s some type of mobile device," said Peter Modafferi, chief of detectives for the Rockland County district attorney’s office in New York, who also works on investigative policies and operations with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The need for the police to exploit that technology "has grown tremendously, and it’s absolutely vital," he said in an interview.
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