Lawmaker has conducted multi-year investigation of law enforcement requests for mobile phone data

Washington, D.C. (November 17, 2014) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who initiated the first-ever Congressional inquiry into U.S. law enforcement’s request for Americans’ mobile phone information, queried the Department of Justice (DOJ) about a reported government program that secretly gathers Americans’ mobile phone data using federal aircraft. The Wall Street Journal reported that DOJ has deployed equipment on aircraft to mimic the operations of cell phone towers in an effort to intercept the mobile phone information of Americans. The program raises serious questions about how the Department protects the privacy of innocent Americans whose information may be collected by this equipment, and what the legal and constitutional implications are for collecting such information.   


“Americans are rightfully disturbed by just how pervasive collection of mobile phone information is, even of innocent individuals. While this data can be an important tool for law enforcement to identify and capture criminals and terrorists, we must ensure the privacy rights of Americans are protected. 


“Whether in cyberspace or aerospace, the collection of American’s personal information raises significant legal and privacy concerns, particularly for innocent consumers. We need to know what information is being collected, what authority is being used to collect it, and if and how this information is retained and stored. I look forward to receiving a response from the Department of Justice and continuing my investigation.”


A copy of Senator Markey’s letter to the Department of Justice can be found HERE.


In the letter, the Senator asks the Department of Justice to respond to questions that include:  

  • Do any other agencies within DOJ operate similar programs?
  • How many times have DOJ agencies conducted operations over U.S. cities with cellular surveillance technology attached to an airplane, helicopter or drone?
  • What types of court order, if any, are sought and obtained to authorize searches conducted under this program?
  • What information is collected about these phones by the surveillance technology?
  • Are individuals – either those suspected of committing crimes or innocent individuals –provided notice that information about their phones was collected?  



For the past two years, Senator Markey’s investigation revealed expanded use of wireless surveillance of Americans, including more than one million requests for the personal mobile phone data of Americans in 2012 by law enforcement. Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, began his investigation last year, revealing 1.3 million requests in 2011 for wireless data by federal, state, and local law enforcement and plans to introduce legislation to ensure protections for wireless phone information.