privacyMost of us use our cell phones for business and personal use. For instance, in the car returning from a family Thanksgiving celebration, my wife read her business e-mail, checked the weather, referred to a map for our location, and browsed for Black Friday sales. We all assume such phone activities are relatively private, but are they?

Recently, the ACLU obtained from the Justice Department a document guide for law enforcement that describes how major cell phone companies handle data and location information for phones using their service. It turns out that most carriers store usage information, albeit the kinds of data and the length of time the data is stored differs among carriers.

While carriers don’t record calls, they keep a record of calls made and received. Verizon also stores for a year the identity of cell tower connections a phone makes; AT&T has accumulated the same data since 2008. These data may be used to accurately determine where a phone is physically located at any moment during the day or night.

Web browsing information is not maintained by T-Mobile, but Verizon stores some web site identity information for up to a year. Sprint Nextel stores text messages for three months while Verizon only for three to five days. Other carriers do not keep text content, but instead store records of who texted who for a year or more.  AT&T preserves such data for seven years.

The ACLU takes the position that we all have a right to know how long records are kept. Do you agree?

— Laurence Weinberger, Esq.