(More) Unlawful access to phone records in the US

24 December 2007

Claudia Diaz just forwarded an email by Eric Rescorla pointing to an article in Wired describing how the FBI has been gaining access to telephone traffic data without a warrant. A saucy exerpt:

The revelation is the second this year showing that FBI employees bypassed court order requirements for phone records. In July, the FBI and the Justice Department Inspector General revealed the existence of a joint investigation into an FBI counter-terrorism office, after an audit found that the Communications Analysis Unit sent more than 700 fake emergency letters to phone companies seeking call records. An Inspector General spokeswoman declined to provide the status of that investigation, citing agency policy.

[…]

The message was sent to an employee in the FBI’s Operational Technology Division by a technical surveillance specialist at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office — both names were redacted from the documents. The e-mail describes widespread attempts to bypass court order requirements for cellphone data in the Minneapolis office.

Remarkably, when the technical agent began refusing to cooperate, other agents began calling telephone carriers directly, posing as the technical agent to get customer cellphone records.

The interesting point here is how agents seemed to have been abusing the lawful access process, by pretending to be a colleague with legal authority, in order to get out of phone companies either records of calls and locations of phone, or surveillace equipment to be turned on. A similar scandal had broken out in Chicago back in 2006 when it became known that insiders in phone companies have been selling phone records to the FBI as well as private entities: the police was then concenrned that such information may be used by the mob to out informants.

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