How To Put Money On Phone For Prison Calls – Thousands of prisons and jails across the United States use a company called Securus Technologies to provide and monitor calls to inmates. But a former Mississippi County, Md., sheriff used the little-known Securus service to track people’s cell phones, including those of other officers, without a court order, according to charges filed against him in state and federal court.
This service can locate almost any cell phone in the country in seconds. It does so by bypassing systems commonly used by marketers and other companies to obtain location data from major cellphone carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, the documents show.
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Between 2014 and 2017, the sheriff, Corey Hutcheson, used the service at least 11 times, prosecutors said. His alleged targets included a judge and members of the State Highway Patrol. Mr. Hutcheson, who was fired last year in an unrelated case, has pleaded not guilty to the surveillance cases.
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As location tracking becomes more accurate and more people carry their phones with them every waking moment, the ability of law enforcement officials and companies like Securus to access that data is became a privacy concern.
Securus offers the location search service as an add-on feature for law enforcement and corrections officers, part of an effort to attract customers to the lucrative but competitive industry. In the promotional packages, the company, which is one of the largest providers of prison telephones in the country, describes several cases where the service has been used.
In one, a woman sentenced to drug rehabilitation escaped from the center, but was eventually found by an officer who uses the service. Other examples include an officer locating a missing Alzheimer’s patient and investigators using “accurate location information” to get “within 42 feet of the suspect’s location” in a homicide case.
Asked about the verification of surveillance requests from Securus, a company spokesperson said that customers need to upload a legal document, such as a warrant or an affidavit, to prove that the activity is authorized.
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“Securus is neither a judge nor a district attorney, and the responsibility to ensure the legal sufficiency of supporting documents rests with our law enforcement clients and their attorneys,” said the spokesperson in a statement. Securus provides services only to law enforcement and correctional facilities, and not all officers in a given location have access to the system, the spokeswoman said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission this week that Secures confirmed it “does not conduct a review of surveillance requests.” The senator said that the trust of consumers to provide documents was insufficient. “Wireless carriers have an obligation to take affirmative steps to verify law enforcement requests,” he wrote, adding that Securus did not follow those processes.
The location tracking platform is offered by a company called Secure Technologies that targets law enforcement and corrections officials.
The service provided by Securus reveals a potential vulnerability in a system that is supposed to protect the private information of millions of mobile phone users. With the consent of customers, operators sell the ability to receive location data for marketing purposes, such as offering coupons when someone is near a business or services such as roadside assistance or bank fraud protection. The companies that use the data are usually signed contracts to get people’s consent – through a reply to a text message, for example, or pressing a button on a menu – or otherwise to use the data legally .
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But the agreements between the companies, including Securus, are “the legal equivalent of a pink slip,” Mr. Wyden wrote. F.C.C. He said he was examining the letter.
Courts are divided on whether investigators need a warrant based on probable cause to obtain location data. In some states, a warrant is required for any type of cell phone tracking. In other states, it is only necessary if the investigator wants real-time data. And in others, it is not necessary to guarantee.
The Justice Department said its policy is to seek warrants for real-time surveillance. The Supreme Court has ruled that putting a GPS tracker in a car counts as a search under the Fourth Amendment, but that’s because installing the device involves touching a person’s property — something that pinging a cell phone does not. .
Telephone companies have a legal duty under the Telecommunications Act to protect customer data, including the location of the call, and may provide it in response to a legal order or sell it for use with the consent of the client But lawyers interviewed by The New York Times disagreed on whether location information not collected during phone calls carries equal protection under the law.
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Other experts said the law should apply to all network communications, not just phone calls. “If phone companies are giving someone a direct portal to real-time location data for all their customers, they need to regulate that,” said Laura Moy, deputy director for privacy and technology at the Georgetown Law Center. .
Mr. Wyden, in his letter to the FCC, also said that carriers have a responsibility to verify whether the requests of law enforcement are legitimate. But Securus excludes carriers from the review process because carriers do not receive legal documents.
The letter requested that the F.C.C. Investigation of security and telephone companies and protect their user data. Mr. Wyden has also sent letters to major companies, demanding audits of their dealings with companies that buy customer data. Representatives for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon said the companies had received the letters and were investigating.
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“If this company is, in fact, doing this with our customers’ data, we will take steps to stop it,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young said. T-Mobile said it would “take appropriate action” if it found any data abuse.
Senator Ron Wyden this week called for an investigation into Securerus, as well as phone companies and their security of user data. Credit…Tom Brenner/The New York Times
AT&T also said it follows industry “best practices” in handling data, and Sprint said it only shares location information with customer consent or in response to legitimate requests.
Privacy Concerns About Securus and Location Services The F.C.C. was created before selling the company to Platinum Equity, a private equity firm, for about $1.5 billion last year. Attorney Lee Petro, who represents a group of inmates’ family members, wrote letters asking the commission to reject the deal, citing concerns about tracking people who spoke to the inmates by phone.
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Securus, founded in Dallas in 1986, marketed its location service as a way for officers to monitor phone calls made by inmates. Securus said this would block escape attempts and contraband smuggling into prisons and jails and help track calls to areas “known to generate illegal activity”.
According to 2013 documents from the Florida Department of Corrections, Securus obtained the data from a mobile marketing company called 3Cinteractive. Securus said it could not confirm for privacy reasons whether that contract was still in place, but a spokesman for Mr. Wyden said the company had told the senator’s office that it was. In turn, 3Cinteractive obtained its data from LocationSmart, a firm known as a location aggregator, according to the companies’ filings. LocationSmart buys access to data from all major US carriers, he says.
Securus said it obtained consent before it could track phone calls from prisons, and asked those at the end to press a button agreeing to data collection.
The location service proved to be a selling point. Chief Deputy Matthew Thomas of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona said the department has been using the Safe Location tool for about a month and it has already taken off. “We use it for search and rescue operations and in prisons they use it to maintain security and gather cases,” he said.
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Mr Thomas said only three people in the office could access the system and the office carried out monthly audits to ensure it was being used properly.
About three weeks ago, Mr. Thomas said, someone sent an inmate a letter containing methamphetamine. Using the tool, Mr. Thomas said, the investigators were able to connect the phone calls between the address and the inmate and make the arrest.
For search and rescue cases, Mr. Thomas said, the Secures tool was more effective than searching records for phone companies. “It makes the response much faster for our crews,” he said.
In such cases, there are people
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