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When It Comes to Cell Phone Privacy, You’re an Open Book

By BRUCE WATSON

Few people would willingly carry around a device that tracks their movements, records their conversations, and keeps tabs on all the people they talk to. But, according to documents recently released by the American Civil Liberties Union, cell phone companies are doing all of that — and may be passing the information on to law enforcement agencies.

“Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” an August 2010 document produced by the Department of Justice, outlines the types of information collected by various cell phone companies, as well as the amount of time that they retain it. On some levels, this is reassuring: Verizon (VZ) is the only company that holds on to text message content, and they erase it after 3-5 days. However, text message details — the information about who you text with — is retained for a minimum of a year, with some companies keeping it for up to seven years. In other words, that little back-and-forth you had with Bernie Madoff back in 2007 will be on the books until 2014.

When It Comes to Cell Phone Privacy, You’re an Open Book