A recent blog that has been posted stating that Sprint Nextel has provided law enforcement authorities with customer’s GPS location information over 8 million times in the months of September 2008 to October 2009. Sprint Nextel claimed that the figures outlined were a full misrepresentation and does not reflect the number of times law enforcement requested the information from Sprint but rather represents automated individual requests (also known as “pings”) for data by the officials in order to find specific location information that would be used by investigators. Usually, a sole investigation could create thousands of individual requests to the network by the enforcement officials who have been trying to track down an individual for several days. Sprint stated that in reality the 8 million automated requests were most likely to be generated by thousands of customer searchers, not millions like allegations have stated.
In a recent closed–door conference that dealt with electronic surveillance technology, Paul Taylor, who is Sprint’s manager over the company’s electronic surveillance department, expounded upon the immense amount of requests for customer GPS data due to Sprint’s new Web portal. Taylor talked about his concern with the Web portal due to the high volume of requests that were made after the Web interface went live. Taylor stated, “There is no way on earth my team could have handled eight million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone, without the portal”. “So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement”. Christopher Soghoian wrote the blog that outlined Sprint’s incident, which provoked a protest among privacy advocates. Many of these advocates were shocked at the volume of location – based surveillance that Sprint revealed to officials and many believe that the incident shows the need for heavy legal standards that oversee the collection of location – based information. There are no standards set in place that let authorities know how much evidence is needed in order to track a cell phone’s user location. This incident has put carriers in a debate because they are not sure what to require from any law enforcement that is seeking confidential information. Some believe that there should be a court order. Sprint’s release of confidential information to law enforcement is a reminder of the need for accountability in company’s electronic surveillance departments.