How law enforcement gets data from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon


How it and other law enforcement agencies get location information from telecommunications companies.

The document contains only some of the details. It confirms what we knew about law enforcement accessing telecommunications data. For example, officials can obtain location data from a telecom using a warrant or court orders.

The new information includes a detailed description of what data each carrier collects, how long each telecom keeps certain types of data, and images of the FBI tool that law enforcement agencies can use to analyze cell tower data.

Ryan Shapiro is the executive director of Property of the People. He obtained the document through a request under the public records act. Property of the People is a non-profit organization that publishes and receives government records.

They are already my favourite.

This slide presentation of 139 pages, dating back to 2019, was created by the FBI’s Cellular Analysis Survey Team. The document has yet to see much change since its original publication.

CAST assists the FBI, state, local, and tribal law enforcement investigations by analyzing call data and tower information. This could include getting the data from the telecommunications companies, analyzing tower dumps that show which phones were at an approximate location at a particular time, providing expert testimony, and driving tests to confirm the actual coverage of a mobile tower.

CAST will use industry-standard survey gear drive test equipment when necessary to determine the true geographic coverage breadth for a cell site section,” the presentation states. This presentation explains the legal process for obtaining information from a telecom company, such as a court order and search warrant.

CAST offers its cell phone data visualization tool, CASTViz, to law enforcement officers across the country.

The presentation states that CASTViz can quickly plot tower data and call detail records for lead generation and investigation purposes. This document contains instructions and images for the CASTViz software.

Nate Wessler, deputy director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stated in a telephone call that he had never seen a visualization after viewing the document. He said the paper raised questions about the assumptions and potential errors that this tool might make. The presentation states that maps and analyses made by CASTViz should never be brought to court without being verified for accuracy. This should be done only through a qualified expert.

This document also explains how data requests are handled by Mobile Virtual Network Operators, such as Boost Mobile. It describes how location data is obtained from what the FBI calls “burner phones.” It also explains how information can be obtained from OnStar, General Motors’ in-vehicle systems. This document also includes information about the cost of certain data that law enforcement can request.

The document’s highlight includes more recent data on the time that telecoms keep data. AT&T has kept data like call records, cell sites, and tower dumps for seven years. T-Mobile holds similar information for 2 years and Verizon for 1 year.

Wessler stated there is no business reason for them to need this much, specifically referring to AT&T’s longer retention periods than other telecoms.

AT&T also displays that it retains web browsing and cloud storage data for a year. This information includes websites visited by customers of AT&T’s network. A spokesperson for AT&T, Margaret Boles, explained in an email, “Like all businesses, we are required to comply with legal demands such as warrants based upon probable cause.” “Our responses comply with the law,” the document states. It also mentions that AT&T can provide records regarding wearable devices.

Another section provides an overview of various engineering and location data held by telecoms that could be available to law enforcement agencies. It advises officials to use AT&T data “cautiously” as it states, “AT&T doesn’t validate results.”


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