Last Friday, BuzzFeed reported on the most important tech company you’ve never heard of: a communications and surveillance firm called Neustar. Today, it’s released data about its cell phone surveillance request business. Over 400 companies outsource their law enforcement queries to the tech giant, which has resulted in 57,000 requests over the past five years. In the last year alone, that resulted in 12,500 requests. As Neustar points out, however, those numbers pale in the face of the 1.5 million requests nine major cell phone carriers received in the same five-year span.
On the blog, Neustar also noted that they don’t provide location info for law enforcement —“None of Neustar’s wireless carrier clients can, nor does Neustar on their behalf, ‘ping’ or geolocate a handset device at the request of law enforcement.”
And at the end of the post, Neustar addressed one of the big questions: Is it okay for one company to know every single cell phone number in the country AND be paid to help law enforcement conduct surveillance on alleged criminals?
Isn’t it dangerous for one company to know everyone’s phone number?
The phone number information that we have as the numbering administrator is for routing calls and text messages to the right phone network. What we don’t have is any information about the consumer using the phone number – not any information about the subscribers themselves, their locations, or the content of their calls.
It’s great that Neustar — a company one security expert told was “the Keyser Soze of surveillance” — put this info out there. There’s no such thing as too much information about a company this important in the surveillance world — it’d be nice to know, for instance, a more complete breakdown of what they reject, and why, and how they process VoIP calls (like Skype) as opposed as traditional phone calls. But this is a good start.