By Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cell phone carriers have seen a sharp rise in requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies for their customers' cell phone records, raising privacy concerns and adding a legal burden to mobile phone companies.

Representative Edward Markey on Monday released data from the companies showing more than 1.3 million requests for cell phone records last year.

Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. carrier, reported an annual 15 percent spike in requests, and No. 4 carrier T-Mobile USA said it has seen a 12 percent to 16 percent increase each year.

"We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers," said Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Law enforcement agencies are looking for a needle, but what are they doing with the haystack?"

Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sent letters to nine wireless carriers last month seeking information on the volume and scope of the requests after The New York Times reported cell phone tracking had become common practice for police officials with little or no oversight.

Requests for cell phone records are not subject to any reporting requirements, making the congressional inquiry and Markey's release of the companies' responses the first public accounting of law enforcement's rampant use of cell phone surveillance.

The companies said they maintain dedicated teams to deal with the deluge of requests, and said they only release the information when ordered to do by subpoena or if law enforcement officials certify there is an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury.

Verizon said it has a dedicated team of roughly 70 employees, and staffs the legal team 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sprint employs a team of 36 analysts who receives and reviews court orders for wiretaps and trace devices and then has an additional 175 analysts to respond to court orders for subscriber information.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, also has a dedicated "law enforcement relations" team that works closely with its legal department and privacy team.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc , while T-Mobile is a U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG's .

MetroPCS Communications Inc , C Spire Wireless, Cricket Communications Inc, TracFone, a unit of Mexico's American Movil , and U.S. Cellular also responded to Markey's inquiry.

The Obama administration is currently looking for ways to give consumers more control over personal information while surfing the Web on their laptops and mobile phones, following embarrassing privacy blunders, including secretly tracking users' locations via their smartphones.

(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Flick through the slideshow (below) to see the 11 governments that requested the most content takedowns via court order during the second half of 2011.
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  • #1 - Brazil

    There were 128 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 69 percent of these requests. A total of 397 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 66 executive requests were made for another 157 items to be removed, 26 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #2 - The United States

    There were 117 court-ordered requests for a total of 3,851 items to be removed. Google complied with 40 percent of these requests. In addition, 70 executive requests were made for 2,341 items to be taken down, 44 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #3 - Germany

    There were 60 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 80 percent of these requests. A total of 1,304 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 43 executive requests were made for another 418 items to be removed, 72 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #4 - Argentina

    There were 39 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 97 percent of these requests. A total of 247 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 7 executive requests were made for another 19 items to be removed, 86 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #5 - Turkey

    There were 22 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 64 percent of these requests. A total of 104 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 23 executive requests were made for another 70 items to be removed, 48 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #6 - Italy

    There were 20 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 70 percent of these requests. A total of 45 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 8 executive requests were made for another 51 items to be removed, 50 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #7 - Spain

    There were 18 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 78 percent of these requests. A total of 24 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 25 executive requests were made for another 283 items to be removed, 8 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #8 - France (tied with the United Kingdom)

    There were 12 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 67% of these requests. A total of 22 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 19 executive requests were made for another 39 items to be removed, 47% of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #9 - United Kingdom (tied with France)

    There were 12 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 58 percent of these requests. A total of 97 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 37 executive requests were made for another 750 items to be removed, 54 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #10 - Switzerland

    There were 7 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 100 percent of these requests. A total of 65 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, less than 10 executive requests were made for items to be removed, 100 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.

  • #11 - Australia

    There were 6 court-ordered requests for data to be removed. Google complied with 17 percent of these requests. A total of 633 items were requested for takedown via court order. In addition, 11 executive requests were made for another 13 items to be removed, 45 percent of which Google complied with. All statistics found from <a href="http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/countries/" target="_hplink">Google's Transparency Report</a>.