Carrier IQ Litigation: Does Data Gathering on Phones violate Federal Wiretapping Laws?

Staff Writer

Recently, Carrier IQ has come under scrutiny for the vast amounts of data it gathers from cell phone users.  A cell phone analytics company, Carrier IQ claims it’s software is installed on over 141 million devices. Apparently, the software is mostly on phones from AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. This software has the ability to gather vast amounts of data from users, including logging keystrokes, user location, and telephone calls. For example, the software can track what websites a person visits, as well as the usernames and passwords used on those sites. Since this information is tracked directly from the phone or mobile device, it does not matter if the device is used over wi-fi networks or cellular networks, or if the website itself is encrypted. The potential for invasion of privacy is enormous.

Carrier IQ has responded, saying “While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools.”

As you can imagine, this scrutiny has sparked litigation. Several class-action suits have been filed against Carrier IQ, the cell phone carriers, and the manufactures of the various devices that were sold with the Carrier IQ software. The suits allege violations of the federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2511. The Wiretap Act prohibits interception of wireless communications without consent of the parties communicating. The Act also authorizes the recovery of civil damages, 18 U.S.C. § 2520. These damages have the potential to be very expensive for Carrier IQ and the other defendants because the act authorizes damages in the amount of $100 per day or $10,000, whichever is greater (Remember this program is installed on 141 million devices!) Alternatively, the statute authorizes the plaintiffs to recover “any profits made by the violator [of the Act] as a result of the violation.” If the plaintiffs’ allegations hold true, this could include all profits Carrier IQ made by selling the software.

This saga is ongoing, and given the potentially large class size, may take years to resolve. Regardless of the conclusion, a costly legal battle is in store for Carrier IQ and the users of it’s software.

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