Cellphone carriers in the U.S. are holding onto sensitive data about their customers for a significant amount of time, according to a Department of Justice memo that compares the data retention policies of four of the country’s largest carriers.
Looking at the policies of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, the memo reveals that while Verizon may be the worst offender for storing information in some respects—it keeps the IP Session and Destination information from your phone longer than the other carriers, as well as storing your text messages for five days (other carriers don’t store the content of messages at all)—it’s also the carrier that retains a list of your text recipients for the shortest amount of time (one year, compared with 18 months for Sprint, up to five years for T-Mobile and up to seven years for AT&T).
More importantly, Verizon is also the carrier that stores your cell-site data—tracking your movements via the location of the towers your cellphone is connecting to—for the shortest amount of time: one year, with T-Mobile storing it for a vague “year or more,” Sprint for up to two years, and AT&T storing it indefinitely.
The memo, dated August 2010 and marked “Law Enforcement Use Only,” was released by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina following a Freedom of Information Act claim. Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney, commented that “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… The government has this information because it wants to engage in surveillance.”
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.