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New York City Police Amassing a Trove of Cellphone Logs (nytimes.com)
46 points by rpm4321 1699 days ago | hide | past | web | 36 comments | favorite

> Police officials declined to say how many phone records are contained in the database, or how often they might have led to arrests.

> Police officials would not say if detectives had used the call records of any cellphone theft victims in the course of investigating other crimes.

Why can police refuse to answer these questions? This information should be publicly available by default. There is absolutely no risk to any criminal investigations by releasing this info.

This is one of my biggest problems with government agencies. Laws should require them to be open and transparent by default. They should have to take additional steps to make something not available to the public and should have to justify this action.

I live & work in NY. NYC is a police state. You as a citizen have no rights until you retain a lawyer and you can be searched without probable cause (via stop & frisk). The police along with TSA (in some cases) setup subway checkpoints. If they pull you out for a bag search and you refuse, you cannot enter the subway. If you do, you will be arrested. There is no law on the books that says they can do this, but it is their policy and you must obey. The data they collect will be used by other government agencies. They will also collect facial data as well.

On balance, how do you feel about this compared to say, the 1970s when muggings in NYC were so commonplace they were almost expected. NYC has transformed from at least a somewhat unsafe city to one of the safest big cities in the world. Is it worth the price?

Much of this dramatic reduction in crime happened before stop & frisk and the subway checkpoints, which have only come in recent years.

It's police busywork in light of the reduced crime rates so that no police are laid off.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

I normally hate people who just throw quotes up to answer a question, but this one seemed appropriate.

I will never live in NYC (though I do travel upstate quite a bit). There are plenty of large cities in the world that are safe or safer without also being police states.

Except it's not "a little temporary safety" or "essential liberties".

First, crime has come down by huge amounts in NYC. Some crimes, like murder are 1/4th or 1/5th of the peaks in the 1980's. For decades now, we've seen a huge increase in safety in NYC.

Second, I question whether most of the police actions are giving up essential liberties. I can see how some might think so, but I can see how many would not.

> First, crime has come down by huge amounts in NYC.

As many other commenters have mentioned, the decrease in crime is not related to the removal of civil liberties. The crime decreases occurred prior to the implementation of many of these policies.

> Second, I question whether most of the police actions are giving up essential liberties. I can see how some might think so, but I can see how many would not.

They are infringing on constitutional rights. I don't see how those rights could be seen as anything but essential.

I don't think that subway checkpoints and stop-and-frisks were part of the reason that crime went down; in fact, I'm pretty sure that subway checkpoints are a very recent post-911 creation.

And I'd say that public transportation is a pretty essential liberty in NYC.

It seems you made a serious mistake -- you assumed that it is the stop and frisk and invasion of privacy and all these other police practices that lowered the crime rate.

How do you know crime rate hasn't been lowered everywhere because of say, global warming?

    "There are plenty of large cities in the world that are safe or safer without also being police states."
Can you name one?

Luxemburg, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, and so on. And within the US there are plenty as well:




New York doesn't even enter the top 50 when it comes to safety in the second table there.

And in Canada Toronto, Vancouver.


It's a stretch to say Tokyo is any less a police state than NYC given Japanese weapon laws and mass CCTV survellience.

> given Japanese weapon laws

Gun rights are not the be all and end all of freedom.

> mass CCTV survellience

I see absolutely nothing wrong with the use of CCTVs to monitor public places (or the use of them to monitor private places by the owners of those places). If civilians are allowed to record the police in public, then the police should be allowed to record civilians in public too.

You have an odd definition of police state, then. People control and unchecked intelligence gathering on citizens are essential to a repressive power apparatus.

The point of cobrausn is that NYC takes this too far while other large cities do not. I'd argue the safest cities in the same class as NYC are probably as much police states. At least in regards to violent crime. Petty crime rates are difficult to compare uniformly across cultures.

That's all well and good, but does that (CCTV surveillance) fall into what cobrausn quoted (Benjamin Fraklin?) above?

I guess it's a matter of perspective or opinion. Where do you/we draw the line?

Well that's easy then -- enact weapon laws in US instead of frisking random people but only _if_ you think that it is what is making Tokyo safe.

Since NYC has about the highest level of personal intrusion, I'd say all of the ones that have a lower crime rate.

When you live in fear, you will always attract the worse society has to offer. NYC in the 70's was good and bad, probably a little better today however. When the police turned their eyes on the sources of crime, late 70s-80s (also The Guardian Angels) things improved. Then the NYC government + private business started the rebuilding of Times Square (Large commercial entities) and other areas. This brought in more jobs and most crime (various kinds) moved out and into other areas/neighborhoods.

But alas a new type of crime moved in (white collar - bankers etc..) So who is watching them now? NOBODY.

  Now the police cannot stop somebody from flying a plane into a building, that is the responsibility of our Federal Government agencies.  Today, the police are more of a danger to society than they ever have been.  This I compare to the NY Police in the 70s,60s, 50s...(corruption - Watch/Read about Frank Serpico for example).  The bad cops were afraid of getting caught.  Now today they can get away with murder.
The NY Police and in fact most of the police foces in all of the USA have been militarized in the name of terror. They have been given powers to detain and arrest for almost anything. Look at them the wrong way.

Nothing is worth the price of losing your ability to assemble, speak and to travel. You cannot do this anymore without being considered a potential terrorist or similar. We are not innocent and are all potential threats the all seeing eye of the Police State.

I lived in NYC in the '70s and '80s. It was an adventure, to be sure. But the crime started going down once the police started nailing people for so-called quality of life crimes. They busted turnstile jumpers and such, which gave them the chance to check for DATs and outstanding warrants. That helped them find people with unregistered guns and lock up actual criminals.

The current stop and frisk and TSA searches are perhaps not doing all that much to increase safety over what was before. It's not a choice between police state and crime sprees.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Is there cause an effect here? That is, could the relative safety have been achieved with just a police presence?

Yes. Stop and frisk and bag searches are relatively recent inventions of the NYPD, and post-date the massive crime drop in the city.

The massive improvement of NYC quality of life and crime rates is most commonly attributed towards the massive explosion of police presence (the NYPD is larger than some standing armies), as well as the broken-windows policy (i.e., busting highly visible small-time crimes on the theory that it will lead to a drop in large crimes, such as vandalism, shoplifting, etc).

You really cannot walk two blocks in Manhattan and not run into a police officer. Presence helps, and IMO these egregious, unconstitutional additions to the NYPD repertoire are just trying to claim rightful credit for crime reductions they didn't cause.

There is very little crime in North Korea, as well.

Source: lived in NYC, visited DPRK

A few months ago here in St Louis, a woman was murdered in broad daylight in an armed robbery attempt.

Police started looking at other recent street robberies reported in the area. It turned out that a week before the murder, a person was robbed at gunpoint just a few blocks from where the murder took place, and their cellphone was taken. After that theft, call records for that stolen phone started showing showed a woman's phone number.

Upon tracking down that number, they got to a woman who said her boyfriend was involved in the murder. That led to two men being arrested for this and at least one other previously unsolved armed robbery.


However, the NYT article says it can take weeks for a subpoena to be issued and acted upon by the phone company. So I question whether a database like that would really have even been helpful in a situation like this, since they'd need the data a lot sooner after an incident.

Seems to me that this might be more of an attempt to mine phone records on a larger scale and look for drug networks or other emerging patterns.

If everybody was forced to have the mic and camera on all the time on their cellphone, I bet the police could catch even more criminals. That is obviously a strawman, but there is a point: there will always be a tradeoff between privacy and safety. I'd rather not give up my privacy to combat what are essentially black swan events.

With my base opinion out of the way, I will say I would be comfortable with the kind of tracking you mentioned if there were strong protections on what the police could do with that data. For instance, the phone's owner should be protected from prosecution in similar ways to evidence gained from an illegal search. This data should also have a maximum lifetime. Finally, it should be clear when the records are being requested so the owner of the number can turn it off if they move the number to a new phone.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine these kinds of laws being passed, so, until they do, I'll stick with my default of believing the government should require more effort, not less, to snoop in my life.

The problem is when they don't use this to track drug networks and murder crimes and instead use it to lock up peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters, or other political dissidents.

"When a cellphone is reported stolen in New York, the Police Department routinely subpoenas the phone’s call records, from the day of the theft onward. [...]

But 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."

Isn't a subpoena a court order?

At first, I didn't feel so bad about the police actions described in this article. I've had a phone stolen right in front of me in broad daylight, and it sure would have been nice if the cops had nailed the guy. However, tracking calls would have never led to the guy who stole my phone. I presume my thief had the phone flashed within minutes.

Wouldn't it make more sense to track device stolen S/N or MEIDs, like they do in Europe? I guess that would involve some sort of scary IT investment.

If it was your phone, you could have given the police access to your call records, couldn't you?

And it would have much less collateral benefit to police.

Surely there's a form of personal insurance that would get you a new phone in less time than it would take for the police to retrieve yours (if they ever do).

Actually, i had insurance. Took about 24 hours to get a replacement on my doorstep.

A question arrising from this is, is this database of cell phone records also provided to any federal agencies, FBI, etc? My guess would be that it is, or is easily available to them on request.

How many of the same records wind up at AMDOCS/Mossad?

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