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NYC Police Gathering Cellphone Logs 122

Posted by timothy
from the for-a-nice-toasty-fire dept.
Dupple writes "When a cellphone is reported stolen in New York, the Police Department routinely subpoenas the phone's call records, from the day of the theft onward. The logic is simple: If a thief uses the phone, a list of incoming and outgoing calls could lead to the suspect. But in the process, the Police Department has quietly amassed a trove of telephone logs, all obtained without a court order, that could conceivably be used for any investigative purpose. The call records from the stolen cellphones are integrated into a database known as the Enterprise Case Management System, according to Police Department documents from the detective bureau. Each phone number is hyperlinked, enabling detectives to cross-reference it against phone numbers in other files."
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NYC Police Gathering Cellphone Logs

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  • In other words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:50AM (#42104795) Journal
    "Each phone number is hyperlinked, enabling detectives to cross-reference it against phone numbers in other files."

    In other words, guilt by association.
    • Re:In other words... (Score:5, Informative)

      by alen (225700) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:51AM (#42104815)

      no, if you take lots of phone calls from stolen phones than chances are you're involved in something shady as well

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        Or you're the family of someone shady.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Or you're the family of someone shady.

          Perfect, then you probably know more about that shady person, and the police should know about you so that they can question you. Having a hard time finding a problem here.

        • Or you're the family of someone shady.

          Or, you had your phone stolen by a shady person, then ported your number to a new (non-stolen) phone:

          In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victim’s new cellphone, if the stolen phone’s number has been transferred

          Banish your ignorance - RTFA. [nytimes.com]

      • "Hi, this is Rachel from Card Services..."

        There's certainly another possibility, guy:

        You might not be shady at all. You might be one of the millions of VICTIMs [cardratings.com] of criminals.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      "Each phone number is hyperlinked, enabling detectives to cross-reference it against phone numbers in other files." In other words, guilt by association.

      Evidence that may eventually lead them to rings of thieves.

    • Oh wow, they're HYPERLINKED? So you mean if you have a phone number database and a phone number you're looking for, you can query the database for records it has pertaining that phone number? Mind. Blown.

      Seriously though that statement doesn't mean anything. All it is is a technological shortcut that makes it easier to use the resources that we already established they had. Making hyperlinks does not automatically add any new capabilities or information.

      • A hyperlink merely means that you can use the phone number in a browser to take you to another page. Every link on a web page means that you essentially will be taken to wherever that link points. It is in no way a guarantee that the thing that is linked is in fact in any database, indexed or otherwise searchable.
      • Yeah, I thought the same thing when I read that. In the technical field the word "HYPERLINK" has a very specific and limited meaning, one that might be lost on even a New York Times journalist. To skilled, trained technical professionals, the first question that pops into our mind it "hyperlinked to what? a picture of a doggy or a kitty cat? who cares?"

        You can sense what the article it alluding to though. Other phone numbers.

        The implication then becomes: okay, cops are applying Bayesian probability al
    • Find a way to work the Miranda warning into general cell phone use and that could actually happen.
    • Everybody in this database is there because they've used a stolen cell phone. Thus, every one of them is guilty of receiving stolen property, at the very elast.

      • by BLKMGK (34057)

        Unless of course a stolen phone called YOU. Or perhaps the new owner of the phone didn't realize it was stolen. Lots of possibilities. I'll admit though that I'm also having a tough time finding a problem with this scenario...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So receiving a phone call from a stolen phone makes you guilty? By that logic every pawnshop is illegal and should be immediately closed, raided, and have the items cataloged. The next step is going through those sales records and rounding up all those terrible 'customers'.

        • by MrNaz (730548)

          That's not really a bad idea, given that the whole business of pawn brokering is based on a mix of brokering sales of stolen goods and feeding on the needs of the most vulerable members of society.

          Personally, I think pawn brokers should be summarily shot.

      • by PPH (736903)

        No. Everybody in this database is there because they received a call from a stolen phone. By itself, not a crime. But it can reveal a pattern of criminal activity. Lets say the criminal kingpin orders his underlings never to call him from their own (traceable) phone, but to obtain one not tied to them. Supposedly, that would make tracing communications much more difficult. But many criminals, being criminals, may just steal a phone when they need one. So if a large number of calls are placed to some individ

      • Everybody in this database is there because they've used a stolen cell phone. Thus, every one of them is guilty of receiving stolen property, at the very elast.

        Errm... Those peoples' names are in the database because they reported their cellphone stolen, not because they used a stolen one.

      • Allegedly.
      • Everybody in this database is there because they've used a stolen cell phone. Thus, every one of them is guilty of receiving stolen property, at the very elast.

        Incorrect - according to the LEOs running the show (who are always, always completely honest and forthcoming with the public), everyone in this database is there because their phone number was, at some point, linked to a reportedly stolen phone.

        Say, for example, that your phone is stolen. You report it, head to the Verizon store, and have your number ported to a new one. Guess what? All your calls on your new phone are included in the police database, because they associate the database with the phone n

    • by pdclarry (175918) *

      Well, there's more to it than that if you read far enough into the story. The police subpoena phone records by phone number, not IMEI. So if the victim transfers the number to another phone the victim's calls are in the database, not the thief's.

  • by Matt_Bennett (79107) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:50AM (#42104805) Homepage Journal
    Isn't a subpoena a court order?
    • by cdrudge (68377) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:48AM (#42105357) Homepage

      It's an court order, but it may not be an order specifically by the court. The subpoena in some areas may be issued by an attorney without any immediate judicial oversight. The subpoenaed individual then could challenge it to have due process and judicial oversight. A court clerk also can issue the subpoena, but it too may not have any judicial oversight.

      • by arekin (2605525)
        Presumably "subpoena" means "DA office asked the person whose phone was stolen for permission to acquire the phone records from day of theft onward". Seeing as the victim willingly gave up their phone records to catch the thief and has likely already received a new phone whose call log is not being forwarded to the police, I don't see this as an issue. These are all legally collected records and they are only affecting the criminals who stole the phone, or the people who were stupid enough to buy a iPhone
        • Presumably "subpoena" means "DA office asked the person whose phone was stolen for permission to acquire the phone records from day of theft onward". Seeing as the victim willingly gave up their phone records to catch the thief and has likely already received a new phone whose call log is not being forwarded to the police, I don't see this as an issue. These are all legally collected records and they are only affecting the criminals who stole the phone, or the people who were stupid enough to buy a iPhone from a street vendor for $100.

          Seriously, does anyone besides me RTFA anymore?

          The subpoenas not only cover the records of the thief’s calls, but also encompass calls to and from the victim on the day of the theft. In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victim’s new cellphone, if the stolen phone’s number has been transferred

  • by alen (225700) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:52AM (#42104827)

    if my phone is ever stolen i give the NYPD permission to monitor the calls the scumbags make off MY PROPERTY

    and one of these days i need to go down to the police station and have the NYPD engrave my phone like they do with cars

    • by Splab (574204) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:59AM (#42104887)

      Yeah, not sure what the big issue is here.

      Granted, I live in a country where evidence obtained illegally is a matter between state and police, said evidence is still evidence against you. Just because the dimbwitt who collected it missed some part of the paperwork doesn't mean you get a free pass...

      • by jthill (303417)
        Missing some part of the paperwork isn't enough here, either. It has to be on the order of outright lying to get a warrant or some such.
      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        How is this evidence illegal if the owner of the phone gave them permission?

    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:07AM (#42104951)

      Indeed. No one has a right to privacy when using a phone that they stole.

      The submitter has clearly overdosed on YRO and can't see the woods for the trees any more.

      • No one has a right to privacy when using a phone that they stole.

        But what about the rights of the person that they stole the phone from? Such as when their friends attempt to call (not knowing that the phone is stolen).

        Or (in the lucky event where the thief is found and the phone is returned) the calls that the owner makes after police have "forgotten" to switch of the trace?

        • by arekin (2605525)
          The phone will be replaced before its recovered. The only reason that the police report is required is so that the insurance company that the phone provider uses can file charges for damages against the thief. If the phone is recovered it will sit in an evidence locker. What if the person didn't have insurance on their smartphone? Well then they are stupid and deserve to have to use a dumb phone for not insuring their expensive, often stolen, piece of equipment.
        • at least thats what I think it is. so the victims friends would be calling a simcard that was blocked by the operator minutes after the owner had reported it stolen - so they wouldn't be calling him.

          they'll potentially have logs of people not having anything to do with it, since they can record the calls from the operator based on the phones identity - so if you unknowingly buy a crappy stolen phone from a phone shop then they can listen to your calls. then they can cross link that data with other sims that

      • I think it a very valid concern. If I buy a phone off ebay, should I be worried about NYC Police monitoring my calls?

        • Remember, if you pay for a phone on eBay and it happens to be stolen, you haven't bought it. It still remains the property of the person it was stolen from. And his right to have it investigated by the police, and possibly recovered, remains.

          Caveat emptor applies just as much if you buy on eBay.

          • Mmm interesting, so if I "lose" a phone, I get to monitor it for as long as I can, in the interest of recovering it. Interesting notion.

            • It's not a notion. The fact that the phone remains the property of the person it was first stolen from is a matter of law. Which gives them all the rights over that phone, and anyone down the line from the theft no rights over it at all.

    • Report the phone stolen, have the IMEI blocked. Then nobody gets to use it.

      • by JazzLad (935151)
        Except on cricket or other bottom-rung carrier that is a haven for stolen phones.
    • by gsslay (807818)

      From TFA;

      The subpoenas not only cover the records of the thiefâ(TM)s calls, but also encompass calls to and from the victim on the day of the theft. In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victimâ(TM)s new cellphone, if the stolen phoneâ(TM)s number has been transferred, three detectives said in interviews.

      That means they have records of YOUR phone calls as well, the ones YOU made before the phone was stolen, and possibly ones after as well. Still happy for the police to be storing up that data?

      • Thank $deity for you, man.

        I was starting to think I was the only person here today who actually read the fucking article.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      if my phone is ever stolen i give the NYPD permission to monitor the calls the scumbags make off MY PROPERTY

      and one of these days i need to go down to the police station and have the NYPD engrave my phone like they do with cars

      You phone gets stolen, the police get it, put the number in the stolen number, must watch database, and then return your phone to you.

      Now they record and keep track of everyone you call and calls you.

  • by alen (225700) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:58AM (#42104875)

    the cops aren't really that smart

    good police work has always been about going through mountains of data and finding one or two clues to catch the scumbags. most criminals are morons as well and leave lots of clues that have to be found and identified.

    a few years back a doctor was killed near the elementary school i went to. the cops caught the guy in georgia. the scumbag tried to jump a subway turnstile years ago and was caught. the cops got a partial print from the bullet and went through the old arrest records paper finger prints manually to catch the guy. turns out he was related to the doctor's soon to be ex-wife and there were lots of cell phone records and now she's in jail as well

    in the 21st century we have computers and the police don't have to do a lot of repetative work anymore

    • People keep saying "found a print on a bullet".

      Either they are talking about bullets not-yet-fired, or they are talking about the spent casings rather than the bullets themselves. The spent bullet itself is generally going to be fragmented or at least deformed by its travails, presenting an unhelpful surface for fingerprinting.

      Heck, when my apartment was broken into a few years ago, the officer who came around told me that getting prints off even the glass door or the door handle was problematic.

      Of course,

  • So this all seems well and good, until you think that these folks probably then walk down to their store and ask for a new phone. The number gets transferred to the new phone, and the NYC police are now monitoring all of your calls because you reported your phone stolen.
    • by blueg3 (192743) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:14AM (#42105013)

      "Monitoring" is an active, ongoing process. Obtaining call records is a one-time request for a static set of data. Not the same.

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        Also, if you don't want the police to track your property, don't report it as stolen. If you reported your phone as stolen and got a new phone, tell the police the number you provided is no longer stolen (the device still is, though).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So this all seems well and good, until you think that these folks probably then walk down to their store and ask for a new phone. The number gets transferred to the new phone, and the NYC police are now monitoring all of your calls because you reported your phone stolen.

      This is another retarded inflammatory slashdot submission. While it IS important to make sure that the cops are not getting to "grabby" with your data, here's what the article actually says.

      First, they request the call logs starting from the day the phone was reported stolen. The end date appears to be as follows:
      "the subpoenas from recent cases typically requested about four days of phone records, but documents reviewed by The Times indicate that the subpoenas can cover longer periods, sometimes as much as

      • I've learned to instantly ignore any slashdot post that uses the words "retarded" and "faggot". I don't even bother to read it any further, saves me from mindless babble.
  • In the past, people have been kidnapped and it's take days to get phone records. Since a criminal will rarely stop at stealing just one cellphone, tracking stolen phones seem like a good idea.

    I've heard news reports of people's phones and credit cards being stolen, and the police having them immediately canceled. Bad Idea(tm). If an easily traceable item is stolen, it should be flagged in the system. You don't have to automatically authorize large purchases or long calls, but allowing some activity o
  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:06AM (#42104939)

    My guess is insurance fraud reasons. So you want a new phone, report the old one stolen, get the official theft report from the cops, but are dumb enough to keep using the old phone to call the same people until you visit the local dealer (phone dealer, just another branch of organized crime) to get a replacement under your theft insurance contract.

    In the old days this happened when you'd get a $1000 bill for calling guatemala for 8 hours... Um uh that wasn't me, uh, um stolen yeah thats it ... "so why, after the thief ran up the international bill, did the thief call your mom and talk to her for 15 minutes?" "...."

    • by PPH (736903)

      did the thief call your mom and talk to her for 15 minutes?

      That couldn't be be, your honor. My mother will testify under oath that I never call.

    • "so why, after the thief ran up the international bill, did the thief call your mom and talk to her for 15 minutes?" "...."

      Because he wanted a hooker?

    • My guess is insurance fraud reasons. So you want a new phone, report the old one stolen, get the official theft report from the cops, but are dumb enough to keep using the old phone to call the same people until you visit the local dealer (phone dealer, just another branch of organized crime) to get a replacement under your theft insurance contract.

      RTFA:

      The subpoenas not only cover the records of the thief’s calls, but also encompass calls to and from the victim on the day of the theft. In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victim’s new cellphone, if the stolen phone’s number has been transferred

      Apparently, if you transfer your number to a new phone before the subpoena runs out, you run the risk of having that exact same hypothetical happen anyway.

      But hey, I'm certain that if you asked the cops how long the subpoena was for, they'd happily tell you, right?

      Right?

      anyone?

  • My family has lost (had stolen) two iphones. I recovered both by seeing who was texted and phoned. This was before find-my-iphone apps were available. My experience so far is that perps are stupid, and will call and text everyone they know. You can probably call up current usage info and logs online at your service provider.

    Hello, this is MichaelDelving. I think someone called you from my iphone last night at 8:37... Do you remember? Well, I'm going to call these 5 other numbers, and see if any of

  • When a cellphone is reported stolen in New York, the Police Department routinely subpoenas the phone's call records, from the day of the theft onward.

    And I presume they then go and immediately arrest these cellphone thieves, no? I mean, that's ostensibly what this is ability is FOR, right?

    • Exactly. They couldn't care less about actually tracking down your cell phone and busting the person who stole it. All they want is the data.
    • Police? Spending their valuable time to track down thieves and recover property for citizens? Are you new to this country...?

  • FTA: "Mr. Sussmann suggested that the Police Department could limit its subpoenas to phone calls beginning on the hour, not the day, of the theft, and ending as soon as the victim has transferred the number to a new phone."

    Somehow I don't think that will happen. Information is now the world's most valuable currency - with the devolution from a 'real economy' to a financial economy, data has taken the place of gold as a prime currency, and everyone who can is hoarding it. Corporations, governments, and, yes,

  • by jovius (974690)

    Am I the only one who came to see logs from a police gathering?

  • I take it that the police's interest in the call logs should stop the moment the SIM is blocked (on networks with SIMs), and a replacement SIM issued to the correct user of that phone number.
  • by poofmeisterp (650750) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:34AM (#42105205) Journal

    What happens when the phone is recovered? Do they stop monitoring or continue? What happens to the old data? Is the phone number itself included as part of the cross-referenced net, ergo in the future your phone number could be linked to a murder/drug deal gone sour and you're the only primary suspect because of your phone number?

    To clarify, your phone number is in "the net". The phone is used to call a drug store (Walgreens, CVS, etc) while stolen. The phone is recovered. Crime happens somewhere between phone recovery and you calling the same drug store. You are now a primary target with the cops not thinking about this kind of slim situation...

    • So what happens when someone steals your car, uses it to hold up a liquor store and then abandons it. When its recovered, do the cops hold you responsible for a crime if you visit the neighborhood liquor store?
      • So what happens when someone steals your car, uses it to hold up a liquor store and then abandons it. When its recovered, do the cops hold you responsible for a crime if you visit the neighborhood liquor store?

        Hardly the same. In your case, there is a witness.

  • OK, hypothetical here:

    - Phone gets stolen

    - Owner reports phone stolen

    Here's where the disconnect is - according to everything I've read, all US cellular providers have agreed to blacklist the IMEI of any phone reported stolen, thus rendering it virtually useless (at least, to a thief or fence)...

    So, then, how are the cops building a database of call logs from after the reported theft of the phone, when the phone should, for all intents and purposes, be a brick?

    I can think of a few possibiliti
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      There's a gap between when the phone is stolen and when the IMEI is blacklisted. At the very least, this gap must exist since you can't report the phone stolen at exactly the same time someone stole it. They can make calls during this time.

      Call records are strictly retrospective -- they're not a monitoring of future calls, but a record of past calls. So you report your phone stolen, the police request a call log for the stolen phone, and they get a log of calls made before the IMEI was blacklisted. In theor

      • There's a gap between when the phone is stolen and when the IMEI is blacklisted. At the very least, this gap must exist since you can't report the phone stolen at exactly the same time someone stole it. They can make calls during this time.

        Sounds logical.

        Call records are strictly retrospective -- they're not a monitoring of future calls, but a record of past calls. So you report your phone stolen, the police request a call log for the stolen phone, and they get a log of calls made before the IMEI was blacklisted. In theory, the ones of interest are those in the window between the time that you claim it was stolen and the time service was cut off.

        Not according to TFA:

        The subpoenas not only cover the records of the thief’s calls, but also encompass calls to and from the victim on the day of the theft. In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victim’s new cellphone, if the stolen phone’s number has been transferred, three detectives said in interviews.

        Sounds like a continually running capture to me.

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          What they are undoubtedly requesting is a CDR or equivalent. Particularly for so minor a crime as a stolen phone, they are not going to pay the very substantial fees phone companies charge for ongoing monitoring.

          What TFA is referring to is almost certainly a race condition: The victim reports the theft to both (a) the police and (b) the cell company, and then gets a new cell phone and has the number transferred to it. The police eventually request call records from the cell company, and the cell company eve

          • What they are undoubtedly requesting is a CDR or equivalent

            Commission on Dietetic Registration?
            Child Development Resources?
            Crash Data Retrieval?
            Critical Design Review?
            If you're going to use an acronym, you should always spell it out the first time. Otherwise the reader will have no idea what the heck you're on about. But, I digress.

            What TFA is referring to is almost certainly a race condition: The victim reports the theft to both (a) the police and (b) the cell company, and then gets a new cell phone and has the number transferred to it. The police eventually request call records from the cell company, and the cell company eventually services the request. The servicing of the request can easily take place after the number in question has been transferred to a new phone controlled by the victim, so necessarily, the requested logs will include calls made by the victim on his new phone.

            Sounds like a perfect excuse to spy on innocent people to me.

            • by blueg3 (192743)

              You have access to Google. Though because you mentioned Critical Design Review, I will point out that it's Call Data Record. If you watch something like Law and Order, it's what they call "LUDs". (In case you're "worried", I'm just fine at expanding acronyms in real text, but don't put much effort into Slashdot comments.)

              It is a fine excuse to spy on people. I'm just pointing out the entirely legitimate way in which this can happen. I think it's very reasonable that the subpoena not include any data followi

              • You have access to Google.

                Yea, that's where I got the 4 CDRs I posted. We'll chalk this one up to search filtering.

                It is a fine excuse to spy on people. I'm just pointing out the entirely legitimate way in which this can happen. I think it's very reasonable that the subpoena not include any data following the assigning of a new phone and that, even if the CDRs include such data, it should not be included in the database. As with most systems, though, the devil is in the details. The police could be using this whole system for the very reasonable problem of finding repeat offenders -- carefully ensuring that any data of the victim's is redacted before being entered into the database -- or they could be slurping up any data people are dumb enough to offer them and using it to "solve" any case they can reasonably pin on the sucker. There's a wide field of possibilities, and I'm loath to think that either end of the spectrum is likely to be true.

                Alright, I see what you're getting at. It's just that, with the recent explosion of scope creep and self-appointed expansion of power in the law 'enforcement' community over the past decade or so, I'm hard pressed to believe that their actions won't fall to the extreme negative side of the spectrum.

                One look at all the anti-privacy laws that have been passed since 2001 (especially those specific to the New York, New Y

  • Major American carriers will start disabling and blacklisting stolen phones soon.

    This means there will only be a few days' worth of logs for such phones in most cases.

  • Which means the police will also have the necessary location data.

    With simple numbers they would probably only see a lot of stolen phones calling other stolen phones. With location data they can profile geographic locations where both stolen phones are being used. Then a focused effort in that area can be made to determine who is using the stolen phones.

    To police the bigger fish here are the people using the stolen phones to facilitate "more important" criminal activity.

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