The Department of Justice (DoJ) has recently released a document that informed the public about how much information phone carriers keep stored and for how long. All major phone companies keep people’s cell phone information for security and data analysis. Cell phones are “a window into what information would be available from any given company to law enforcement agencies looking to track suspects or confirm alibis using phone records, tracking devices, Web-browsing habits or past text messages.” Police uses this key information to catch cyber criminals or other illicit activity.
Although phone companies have clearly stated that they keep personal information take from cell phones for several years, the amount of data and length of time is new information for their customers. Verizon keeps a list of who a customer has shared text messages with for one year, Sprint- 18 months, T-Mobile- 5 years, and AT&T- 7 years. However, although Verizon keeps this information the shortest time, they also keep the content of the messages for 5 days where the other providers just have records of which contacts the messages went to.
“Cell-site data”, aka tracking information, is also newly released information by the DoJ. This type of data lists a phone’s connection to what websites it has been to and what other connections it’s made. Companies were less clear about how long they keep this kind of data because this is what authorities use to find cyber criminals. Verizon states that it keeps cell-site data for a one-year “rolling” basis, T-Mobile says it retains it for “a year or more”, Sprint stores it for up to 2 years, and AT&T- indefinitely.
Because these companies have publicly announced that they store this much data, they are now a huge target to hackers. It is just a matter of time before one of these companies are hacked because of all this announced information. It is extremely important to limit the amount of data you put on your phone- especially smart phones which have access to email accounts, banks accounts, social networking accounts, etc. A phone with just a bunch of numbers is a lot less valuable than a phone with saved bank information.