FBI broke law for years in phone record searches
By John Solomon and Carrie Johnson
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews. FBI officials issued approvals after the fact to justify their actions.
E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats.
A Justice Department inspector general's report due out this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, bureau officials confirmed.
The records seen by The Post do not reveal the identities of the people whose phone call records were gathered, but FBI officials said they thought that nearly all of the requests involved terrorism investigations.
FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said in an interview Monday that the FBI technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked nonexistent emergencies to collect records.
"We should have stopped those requests from being made that way," she said. The after-the-fact approvals were a "good-hearted but not well-thought-out" solution to put phone carriers at ease, she said. In true emergencies, Caproni said, agents always had the legal right to get phone records, and lawyers have now concluded there was no need for the after-the-fact approval process. "What this turned out to be was a self-inflicted wound," she said.
Yeah, right. Feel free to read the rest. This doesn't seem like some small 'technical' transgression. It's more fundamental. It sure seems like the FBI abused their position, just as they did shortly after 9/11 with the massive overuse of national security letters. Surveillance should require warrants, and they should be issued for legitimate reasons versus as fishing expeditions. Let's suppose that most FBI agents love their country and want to keep it safe. However, there have always been cops, feds and politicians who just aren't that keen on the whole civil rights thing, or even the democracy thing. Surveillance powers are always abused - at least without rigorous oversight. Moreover, casting an extremely wide net can run personnel ragged chasing down false leads. I'm hoping more comes out on this, because the details are important, and to date this has been both a dangerous and entirely predictable trend.