A letter from Senator Ron Wyden to the Justice Department has revealed that the U.S. and some foreign governments have been secretly requesting push notification records from Google and Apple to track people of interest.

Stephen Wicker, professor of computer engineering at Cornell University, is author of the book “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy”. He says it is in service providers’ best interests to protect user data.

Wicker says:

“This revelation highlights tendencies which are troubling. Cellular convergence – the convergence of virtually all user communications onto a single platform – has turned service providers into a one-stop shop for user personal information. Unlike Europe, the service providers in the United States are free to treat much of this data however they wish, including handing it over to the U.S. and foreign governments upon request. 

“The bar to acquisition by U.S. law enforcement for at least some of this information is quite low. Apple’s ‘Legal Process Guidelines’ indicate that in many cases, a subpoena is sufficient to obtain user data. The Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision extended greater protection to historical cell site location data. These protections should be extended to other cell phone data – including app notifications. It is in the service providers’ best interests to protect user data – they must be enabled to do so.

“The government’s insistence on secrecy is problematic on several levels, particularly the impact on the user. Users must know how their personal data is used (or in some cases abused) if they are to have agency in the protection of their personal data and an understanding of the tradeoffs entered into when using cellular technology. Clear, public guidelines need to be established that spell out what is being collected and how it is being used.”