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Cell phone privacy — what cell phone companies are doing

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You will be hard-pressed to find a person not carrying a cell phone these days – from elementary school kids to grandparents. But, would everyone be so willing to carry around a cell phone if they knew it tracks their every movement, keeps record of their conversations, and/or keeps tabs on everyone they talk to and/or text?

It appears that many of the nation’s major mobile carriers may be doing just that — retaining their customers’ location data and more for at least a year — according to a chart the Department of Justice (DOJ) developed in 2010.

The Department of Justice chart highlights the types of information collected by each major mobile carrier along with timeframes the information is retained.

“People who are upset that Facebook is storing all their information should be really concerned that their cell phone is tracking them everywhere they’ve been,” said Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney.

Phone Call Retention

The content of your phone calls – what is said – is not recorded, but all of the major carriers hold onto call records for at least a year. Some companies keep that information up to seven years. Phone bills are kept for at least three years by most mobile carriers.

Did you know or realize that your cell phone can be used to track your movements? Law enforcement can use cell tower data used by your cell phone to reconstruct your movements. And that information is stored for a year, with some carriers retaining it indefinitely.

Pictures taken with a cell phone appear to be retained at the present time by two providers – T-Mobile and Verizon.

Web sites visited from your smart phone may be retained up to a year.

Privacy Breakdown

T-Mobile appears to protect its customers the most of the major carriers. It appears that T-Mobile does not hold onto IP information, bill copies, or text message content, and it retains cell tower info for six months to one year.

Verizon retains most records, including text messages, for a year and your phone bill for up to five years.

Sprint and AT&T both keep records for up to seven years. It appears that AT&T protects its customers the least, since AT&T appears to store information indefinitely.

If privacy is a concern, a pre-paid cellular may be the best route.

For more information, please read an article by Wired titled, “Which Telecoms Store Your Data the Longest? Secret Memo Tells All.”