NYPD building database of call records from stolen phones

If you happen to ever get your cell phone stolen in New York City, the New York Police Department will be on the case. They've been quietly building a collection of phone call records from victims who report their mobile phone stolen. They subpoena all call records from the day that the phone was swiped and onward. Then, they add the call records to a searchable database.

The New York Times reports that the NYPD routinely subpoena the call records of theft victims, and that police documents suggest that thousands of subpoenas have been issued every year. However, while it seems fine that the police would check phone records to investigate criminal activity, some privacy groups question the practice of authorities storing personal data that's not related to an active criminal investigation.

The database stores the calls that you made before your phone was stolen on that day, and all this data is put into what's called the Enterprise Case Management System. All the records are hyperlinked so that they can be cross referenced to other cases as well. However, these call records are obtained without your knowledge, and carriers are complying with authorities without telling their customers in advance.

The NYPD isn't commenting on the situation, but the Times says that T-Mobile cooperated with 297 subpoenas in January 2012 alone, and since T-Mobile is one of the smaller carriers, Verizon and AT&T are probably seeing larger numbers. While the police haven't said whether or not they've actually used victim call records, the scary aspect about this is that they simply have access to the data. It's not really clear what the NYPD plans on doing with the database in the future, and it doesn't seem useful in helping solve phone theft crimes, since the Times reports that phone records seldom lead to an arrest.

[via The New York Times]