We assume that, barring a criminal investigation, our phone and email records are protected from the scrutiny of police officials. But, according to a new report in the New York Times, the New York City Police Department has amassed a vast database of cellphone records logging non-criminal activity.
The database is called the Enterprise Case Management System and offers a sophisticated feature that hyperlinks each number, allowing it to be cross referenced with other numbers in the database. When cellphones are reported stolen in New York they are added to this database and police immediately begin logging the calls made to and from that phone number. However, the Times investigation contends that, "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 Times investigation also revealed that police officials routinely request that carriers provide them with up two weeks or more of phone records from these phones without the victim's knowledge or consent. Perhaps the most tricky aspect of this system arises when a victim of a cellphone theft transfers their old number from their stolen phone to their new phone. According to the report, in some cases, police have also logged calls made to and from the victim's new phone with the old transferred number.
In an interview with the paper, Norman Siegel, a noted civil rights lawyer, said, "There is absolutely no legitimate purpose for doing this. If I'm an innocent New Yorker, why should any of my information be in a police database?" And while the database might be seen by some as an effective tool to track down thieves, according to the Times report, the phone records rarely lead to an actual arrest.
Even more troubling is the notion that this NYPD database, along with other localities, could eventually be cross referenced in some manner with the national database announced by Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and T-Mobile earlier this year.