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Communications Privacy

Are Communications Records of Americans Retained Forever? (seattletimes.com) 143

An Illinois prosecutor announced Friday that a Seattle man was wrongly convicted in 2012 of the abduction and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1957, reports the Seattle Times. It was believed to be the nation's oldest cold case, but reader Trachman raises an interesting concern: He finally got an an alibi, which was a telephone call which he made in 1957. While it surely is a good thing that an innocence has been proven, the case is also an evidence that American's communication records are retained infinitely.
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Are Communications Records of Americans Retained Forever?

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  • Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You really have to ask?

    • by stooo ( 2202012 )

      >>Are Communications Records of Americans Retained Forever?

      The official answer is yes :
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]
      The communication records of everybody are retained forever.

    • Not only that but now the actual calls are also retained. That was said quite clearly when this whole thing blew open - but nobody paid attention to it.
  • by the fact that they were doing it 60 years ago. Even before touch-tone phones.
    • by xous ( 1009057 ) on Saturday March 26, 2016 @07:16PM (#51784135) Homepage

      It was a collect call.

      Businesses that don't record what monies are owed by a client don't last too long.

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      Just imagine the stack of punch cards involved...
    • I'm more surprised by the fact that they were doing it 60 years ago. Even before touch-tone phones.

      Its just the phone company billing data, which phone companies have been collecting for about as long as they have been sending bills to people. All that has happened is that someone dug up the phone company billing data from 1957. Want to know what phone call "metadata" is? Look at your phone bill.

      As for touch-tone dialing, dialing information was detected mechanically long before that with rotary phones. It was just a matter of counting "clicks" rather than recognizing the frequency of tones.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Saturday March 26, 2016 @08:36PM (#51784533) Journal

        A long, long time ago (back when the Sun was new enough to still have a price-tag hanging off the side), I had a phone that had had the rotary section removed. It was meant for inbound calls only. For one reason or another, I ended up needing a phone for a short while and needed to make outbound calls. With a little practice, you could press the button to mimic pulse-dialing and actually make outbound calls on that phone. I kept it around, after no longer needing it for that purpose, just as a novelty.

        This was the 1970s and the phones all came from the telephone company back then. Also, we didn't have nearly as many amusements as we have today. Being able to dial out just by pressing the receiver button repeatedly was a good party trick - it was a simpler time.

        • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *
          I had a phone with a light enough spring in the switchhook that you could tap out a number to dial, and as long as you were somewhat consistent with your cadence, you could successfully dial out that way. It was a run-of-the-mill touchtone phone that I had bought for not much money; about the only distinguishing features were the mechanical ringer (most phones were switching to electronic ringers by this point) and the clear case. Dialing with the switchhook was more of a shits-and-grins thing than any so
        • With a little practice, you could press the button to mimic pulse-dialing and actually make outbound calls on that phone

          It's actually quite a bit easier than that if you ever need to do it... Just tap the hook-switch over and over, just as fast as your finger is able to, until it starts ringing.

          You see, the highest pulse value is 10 for a 0, so tapping-out anything more than 10 pulses will immediately dial a zero and connect your call to an operator (before tapping even stops). You can just tell the opera

          • I always thought the frantic tapping was an attempt to re-connect the call. I never understood how talking to the operator worked in that situation.
    • by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Saturday March 26, 2016 @08:29PM (#51784503) Journal

      What's really bothersome is not that they were collecting the data but that he had to prove his innocence instead of the State having to prove his guilt. It's a disturbing trend where we're proving innocence as opposed to relying on the State to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. (Or more likely than not, in the case of civil matters.)

      As a defendant, you should never have to prove your innocence. The verbiage might seem trivial but it's the underlying concept, and how important it is, that makes me alarmed. Not that long ago, I had a conversation on /. where the person thought it was outdated and "stupid" that it was better for ten guilty people to go free than one innocent person be jailed.

      Sadly, I'm not even remotely kidding about that conversation. I'm not exaggerating and it is not hyperbole. They not only stated that but they made comments that supported that sentiment - before and since. They're not alone, they had people who openly agreed with them. I should not have to prove that I'm innocent. Not at all. Needing to find an alibi, from that many years ago, is crazy. Given the time that has passed, the case should have not been prosecuted unless it was so air-tight that an alibi would not have made a difference. That's awfully close to, if not being past, the line where one is proving innocence.

      The fact that the records are kept is secondary to that - and kind of disturbing but there's not much we can do about it unless we wish to enact legislation to prohibit or require data retention. Right now, they're free to retain those records. It'd also be a bit difficult to ensure records are not kept.

      • by dknj ( 441802 )

        What's really bothersome is not that they were collecting the data but that he had to prove his innocence instead of the State having to prove his guilt. It's a disturbing trend where we're proving innocence as opposed to relying on the State to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

        By a jury of your peers. Most of your peers are gullible and hate baby killers.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          By a jury of your peers. Most of your peers are gullible and hate baby killers.

          The problem isn't that they hate baby killers. In fact I think it is great that they do.
          The problem is that they don't understand that the baby killer goes free if they put the wrong person in jail.

          I don't like the saying "better for ten guilty people to go free than one innocent person be jailed".
          It implies that the guilty persons will go to jail if the innocent is jailed too, not that the innocent takes the guilty persons place in prison.

          • by dwye ( 1127395 )

            Have you READ the original transcript? Maybe the prosecutor was particularly eloquent, the evidence in his favor, and the evidence against (thus in favor of acquittal) pathetically bad. Just because the defendant hasn't confessed and asked to be locked away for life and a day doesn't mean that the jury is wrong, merely incorrect in this one case (assuming that the defendant made the call which supplied an alibi and not one of his friends or associates). The accused baby killer certainly seemed to the ent

          • The problem is that they hate baby killers so much that if you imply that a person might be a baby killer, they hate that person. You can't clearly look at evidence if you hate the defendant.
        • What's really bothersome is not that they were collecting the data but that he had to prove his innocence instead of the State having to prove his guilt. It's a disturbing trend where we're proving innocence as opposed to relying on the State to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

          By a jury of your peers. Most of your peers are gullible and hate baby killers.

          A jury of your peers is meaningless when the lawyers get to hand-pick those peers.

      • he had to prove his innocence instead of the State having to prove his guilt.

        You're spouting nonsense... They did have ample evidence indicating his guilt. It has always fallen to the defendant to provide a defense, and counter / refute the state's (otherwise-compelling) incriminating evidence.

        It's a disturbing trend where we're proving innocence as opposed to relying on the State to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

        You don't seem to know what "beyond a reasonable doubt" means... It has never meant "1

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          They did have ample evidence indicating his guilt. It has always fallen to the defendant to provide a defense, and counter / refute the state's (otherwise-compelling) incriminating evidence.

          Apparently it wasn't enough since we know he is not guilty. In fact, the standard IS that a defendant should be able to sit silently and find himself acquitted is he didn't do it. The defendant DOES have the right to speak in his defense, of course.

          This being a really ancient crime, the prosecutor really did owe a very high duty to be sure since after 50 years the those witnesses who aren't deceased probably only remember the events in caricature.

          In this case, In a sane world, there would be a good case for

          • the standard IS that a defendant should be able to sit silently and find himself acquitted is he didn't do it.

            That's pure nonsense. I can't imagine where you pulled that from.

            • by sjames ( 1099 )

              They used to teach civics in high school.

              Beyond reasonable doubt doesn't mean we sorta-kinda think he's guilty. It doesn't mean "he must be guilty or they wouldn't have arrested him". It is the prosecutor's job to PROVE guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Not SUPPOSE his guilt.

              • Sure, but sometimes the evidence does point in the wrong way. Eyewitnesses make mistakes, and people do get found in guilty-looking situations. Sometimes, people (not necessarily the police or prosecutor) fabricate evidence.

                If a case gets to trial, there's normally a lot of evidence against the defendant, since normally the prosecutor won't ask for a trial otherwise. This means that the defendant isn't likely to be acquitted without a defense. This doesn't mean that the jurors are returning guilty ve

                • by sjames ( 1099 )

                  If the prosecution is fabricating evidence or concealing exculpatory evidence, then the system has already been violated. In the case at hand, the prosecutor DID have the exculpatory evidence.

                  Meanwhile, the judge is supposed to make sure the jury understands the standard of proof required and if he isn't convinced that they do, he has the power to vacate a guilty finding.

                  Note that I'm not saying the defendant SHOULDN'T offer a defense, just that they're not supposed to have to. But if he does not and ends u

              • They used to teach civics in high school.

                You must have had a HORRIBLE civics teacher, to lead you to believe that "a defendant should be able to sit silently and find himself acquitted". What did your civics teacher tell you the defense lawyer was even meant for?

                It is the prosecutor's job to PROVE guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

                Yes, but "beyond reasonable doubt" doesn't meant the prosecution has "100% sure, absolutely irrefutable and infallible proof". Indeed the defense lawyer's job is to explain and neg

                • by sjames ( 1099 )

                  The defendant has a right to a defense and typically hires a lawyer to help make sure the system works because human beings are fallible and sometimes corrupt. Since we don't always live up to the ideal, it is necessary.

      • Sadly the entire system is a mess. Expecting people to prove innocence is just one travesty. Here is another, the illusion of justice may be more important than justice in the eyes of some officials. False arrests, cops planting evidence or certain types of political arrests are all too common. Political arrests would include the cops sweeping up drunks or homeless people due to complaints from taxpayers. It seems to me that the most blatant example of this is the elderly security
        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          I would jump on the chance to go to prison instead of remaining in a county jail. I've spent a weekend and a couple of nights in jail. It wasn't too bad, it was North Carolina where I spent the weekend. If I were sentenced to six or more months, I'd ask to be sentenced for at least N+1 days so that I could go to prison instead of serving the time in county. County is where the inmates are. Prison is where the convicts are.

          I did work at a military prison but I was mostly outside - I was an escort/chaser (tra

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Collect it all was a very old idea eg from 1945. Project SHAMROCK "involved the accumulation of all telegraphic data entering into or exiting from the United States"
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      As far as digital work with databases at a national level, 1969 was the first real mention of national collection that was searchable and gated to select clearance access in the UK based on the 1965 US vision of the Community Online Intelligence System (COINS).
      Later phone collection could be see with early
  • Not a new document (Score:5, Informative)

    by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Saturday March 26, 2016 @07:12PM (#51784113)
    My understanding from reading several articles on this case is that the phone call alibi was investigated at the time and those records were part of the original case file. The change is in the testimony and credibility of witnesses who had previously undermined that alibi. They did not just now uncover records of a phone call from 1957. This does not answer the question of what records are retained by who and for how long.
    • by Excelcia ( 906188 ) <kfitzner@excelcia.ca> on Saturday March 26, 2016 @07:20PM (#51784149) Homepage Journal

      Correct. The telephone records were part of the case records - it is those case records which have been preserved. What changed was information that the crime could have been committed earlier, which if true, would have rendered the telephone call irrelevant as an alibi. When the information that the crime was committed earlier was discredited, the phone records in the case file became relevant to him again.

      This is completely not a case of phone records being retained indefinitely.

      • by djl4570 ( 801529 )
        The TFA contains the following:
        "New evidence included recently subpoenaed phone records proving that McCullough made a collect call to his parents from a phone booth in the city of Rockford"
        Which suggests that the phone records were newly acquired.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Bah, facts. You have no business bringing facts into this. They may just show how ridiculous the whole story is or how incompetent and viscous "law" enforcement is.

      • by dwye ( 1127395 )

        Viscous?

        Vicious, perhaps?

        Anyway, more likely the original defense counsel was crap than law enforcement somehow railroaded the suspect by suggesting that an earlier time was possible, thus making the alibi moot. That would be like assuming an evil Jessica Fletcher mis-solved the case.

  • Can us little people see please? I'm be pretty interested in the stacks of transcribed phone-calls between my grandfather and his mistress.

    • If the government has records from 1957 and they are not Super-Secret-Never-Happened, they are available to the public through FOIA requests. However, there will be paperwork. Please bring your own spade and your own supply of pens with blue-or-black ink. Expect to have even simple requests lost, misfiled, and rejected because you used blue-or-black-ink instead of the clearly labeled chartreuse holographic ink required (only) for form 144A-44A-44. I am not allowed to wish you the best of luck. May god hav
  • I'm a hoarder of information, I admit it. At work, I retain all the bits and bytes that I can, because once in a while, it's useful. I keep all of my emails except the spam. I keep all my paper bank statements and print out all of my tax returns every year to add to the pile. And I expect people I work with to do the same. There's nothing quite so enraging as going to ask someone, what happened on day X and getting back a shrug: "I dunno, we deleted all that data".
    • by idji ( 984038 )
      The corporates want all that data deleted so they know there are no potential skeletons in the closet older than X months that they need to be scared of. And if you keep evidence yourself longer than they can sue you for theft of corporate property and breach of trust....
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      So, bascially you like to have proofs and prove to people. I do that too. ;)

  • Although the meaning was not lost, really, folks, and my dear slashdot editors, the word you want in this case is indefinitely. This concludes today's lesson, when you mean that there is no time limit.

  • Remind me, in the future, when some politician preaches about forgiveness, that the forgetfulness part is on hold indefinitely.

  • That's when the first telephone exchange in the US was started, per wikipedia. Somewhere in some warehouse these record from the very first commercial exchange are probably sitting, transcribed by hand. This is AT&T, they keep records of EVERYTHING, even before the FBI started asking them to.
    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      Well of COURSE they would keep those records, probably laminated on a wall, somewhere (probably at Verizon :-). Alternately, donated to Rutgers.

  • No phone records were produced to clear his name. It was an old FBI report, and (from the FBI's POV) his alibi had been established while investigating the case in 1957. At that time the FBI had either requested and examined the phone records and verified the collect call. While conducting a preliminary investigation an FBI agent may have simply called the phone company and requested the information, noting it in the report. They would not have requested a paper record of the call unless it established his

    • Strictly speaking he didn't get convicted until 2012.

      So the FBI couldn't find jack in the late 50s, then some local prosecutor (from the article, I'd guess a County Prosecutor) decided to close the case, this poor guy a) was fired from a job for a reported statutory rape (the crime he was convicted of seems to be [wa.gov] attempting to seduce her, but not actually seducing her), b) did not actually have any of the paperwork he'd used to establish his alibi in 1957 because that was 55 fucking years ago, and c) gave o

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