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T-Mobile is receiving far more data requests from government than other wireless carriers, and the “Uncarrier” is offering precious little explanation of why that’s so.

T-Mobile received nearly 351,940 government requests for data in 2014. AT&T has roughly twice the number of subscribers, yet received fewer government data requests (263,755). Same story with Verizon, which received 287,559 requests. Sprint received 308,937 requests.

The data request numbers were published in T-Mobile’s first “transparency report,” a type of report that’s become popular among tech companies for reporting government information requests in the post-Snowden environment. Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records data, and it’s still a hot issue.

The records requests came from federal, state, and local government entities, the transparency report said. The most common requests include subpoenas, court orders, warrants, and national security letters.


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T-Mobile had nothing to say about the unusually high number of requests it received. “We could really only speculate on the difference in volume,” wrote a T-Mobile spokesperson in an email to VentureBeat Monday.

T-Mobile may receive more data requests because government agencies know the carrier is willing to comply. The carrier may be doing this to curry favor with regulators, suggested David McIninch of Internet advertising service platform Acquisio. “As the smallest national carrier they may get pushed around more often than the large carriers,” he said.

“T-Mobile may be more likely to play nice,” McIninch said. “They may be trying to put something in the kitty so that they are seen by the FCC and other agencies as good actors, which may help them down the line.”

The best way to measure how willing T-Mobile really is, is by looking at the percentage of government requests to which T-Mobile responded by delivering call data. But T-Mobile refused to provide that information to VentureBeat.

“Regarding the additional question on breaking out the numbers further than what’s currently provided in the report, our systems were not designed to track the kind of detailed reporting that other companies engage in today,” the T-Mobile spokesperson wrote.

Of course, if T-Mobile wanted to make public data about their responses, it could, as others have. The carrier has a whole division dedicated to dealing with government data requests.

But that’s just one theory. McIninch says the high number of data requests may have something to do with the way T-Mobile’s network is architected or routed geographically. T-Mobile’s switches may be located in opportune places for collecting large amounts of data quickly, for example.

It could also be that T-Mobile subscribers use lower-cost phones that are harder to track. In the absence of easily trackable phones, law enforcement agencies may have to rely far more on the carrier to intercept the call data of suspected wrong-doers.

T-Mobile’s high number of government data requests may be the result of something completely innocent. But right now we just don’t know, and T-Mobile’s silence makes us assume the worst.

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