T-Mobile Saw Fewer Government Wiretap Requests In 2017

T-Mobile released its latest annual Transparency Report this month, detailing the requests for information it has received pertaining to both its own data and users’ data, as well as the company’s responses over the course of 2017. Of the 466,540 total demands for information in 2017 - not including national security-related instances - only requests for wiretaps and ‘pen register’ or ‘trap and trace orders’ went down from the previous year. For clarity, those cover real-time tracking of the content of a communication and real-time tracking of other information related to communications, respectively. For example, an order for the former might seek text messages from a communication between two numbers, while the latter would only seek other information such as the phone numbers involved in a particular call. Requests categorized as wiretaps fell to 2,968 in 2017, compared to the company’s reported 5,836 in the prior year. Meanwhile, the latter orders fell to 13,020 from 18,380 over the same period. Overall, entities seeking information went up by roughly 12-percent from 2016 to 2017.

The vast majority of the increases can be attributed to subpoenas for criminal, civil, or trial-related matters or to 911 requests linked to emergencies or perceived emergencies. The first of those two categories accounted for 47.02-percent of requests. Emergencies, on the other hand, made up around 22.3-percent of the calls for data. Emergency requests also rose the most from last year, increasing by around 19.7-percent, followed closely by warrants at just short of a 19.5-percent increase. T-Mobile says warrant-based information requests happened 27,203 times in 2017 and emergency-based requests fell in at 140,245. Subpoenas for information were issued 219,377 times. Court orders increased by 13.5-percent, with the final figure for the year landing at 55,372. Last, T-Mobile customers appealed to the company for their own information in 83 more instances than the prior year and the number of requests from foreign governments rose by three - taking the total up to 20. Just over 115,516 or roughly a quarter of all requests sought access to location data from either towers or users.

While the overall increases appear substantial, T-Mobile representatives have reportedly claimed that the rate is not abnormal. What's more, while overall requests for data have increased by just over 12-percent, the number of those rejected by the carrier increased by 14.6-percent from 2016 to 2017. Around 24,354 of those types of responses were under circumstances wherein T-Mobile didn't actually have the data or wouldn't have been legally allowed to provide the information being requested. 50,121 requests were denied without a formal response and 4,625 demands for information were denied as incomplete or illegible.

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