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FBI Says Paper Trails Are Optional 244

Posted by kdawson
from the we-don'-need-no-steenkin' dept.
WerewolfOfVulcan writes "According to this Washington Post article, the FBI says that it doesn't have to comply with even the unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act when asking for phone records. Apparently that whole due process thing doesn't include them. Funny thing is, they've apparently already been doing it for years." Quoting: "Under past procedures, agents sent 'exigent circumstances letters' to phone companies, seeking toll records by asserting there was an emergency. Then they were expected to issue a grand jury subpoena or a 'national security letter,' which legally authorized the collection after the fact. Agents often did not follow up with that paperwork, the inspector general's investigation found. The new instructions tell agents there is no need to follow up with national security letters or subpoenas. The agents are also told that... they may make requests orally, with no paperwork sent to phone companies. Such oral requests have been made over the years in terrorism and kidnapping cases, officials said."
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FBI Says Paper Trails Are Optional

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  • double entendre (Score:5, Insightful)

    by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:14PM (#18421215) Homepage
    Funny thing is, they've apparently already been doing it for years.

    Oh yeah, that's funny. it's almost a real riot.
    • it's almost a real riot.
      Ohhh, you got me! Yeah, you got me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Funny thing is, they've apparently already been doing it for years.

      Oh yeah, that's funny. it's almost a real riot.


      Click here [wikipedia.org] to gain a new understanding of the sentence.
    • Re:double entendre (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morleron (574428) * <morleron@yahoo.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @06:33PM (#18422307) Journal
      Of course, the memo authorizing this travesty, which utterly destroys the last vestiges of due process for ordinary Americans, says that agents are to use the "exigent circumstances" requests only in case of "dire need". Yeah, we know how well that crap worked when they were supposedly abiding by the extremely dubious constitutional grounds provided by the infamous PATRIOT ACT. Our legislators continue to drag their feet and express surprise that the FBI would abuse its power: these are the jerks that handed the Feds the gun in the first place, now they seem surprised to find that the Bush administration has made use of its secret police powers to investigate at least 143,000 Americans, few of whom are at all likely to be terrorists - I guess that happens when most of one's eighteen functioning brain cells are mainly concentrating on how to maintain oneself in position at the public trough.

      This is a clever move on the part of the Foul Breathed Investigators as it seems that "exigent circumstance" requests may be made by phone; in the interests of saving time and lives of course. Now, with no need to issue even minimal follow-up paperwork there will be far fewer traces of the abuses of power that will continue. After all, the cockroaches can now safely occupy the middle of the room: the lights have been turned off. No need to worry about having to scurry for cover should any noxious Inspector General or Congresscritter show up asking "What the hell?" So, America takes yet another step towards the darkness that is a police state. How long before phone records are used to justify having the military pick up some local "unlawful enemy combatant" in your neighborhood? Think it can't happen here? Think that Americans somehow don't have that "dark side" that shows up everywhere else in the world when governments are allowed virtually unlimited police powers? If that's true, how do you account for the FBI PATRIOT ACT abuses, the current dustup over the firing of eight US District Attorneys, the Valerie Plame affair, the use of secret CIA prison camps and the "extraordinary rendition" of prisoners to other nations with even fewer safeguards against torture than we have, the fact that the military tribunals now being held at Gitmo are secret (can't have anyone finding out who we really detain down there), and the remainder of the whole sordid list of abuses that our little sawed-off tinpot "Decider" in the White House has loosed on this country?

      It's getting to be very close to the point at which openly dissenting from government policies will become very dangerous. It will be too late to put a stop to these abuses once the malevolent piece of vegetation that we "elected" President decides to start really using all the powers he's been given over the past six years. After all, how many people are going to be willing to openly risk the "midnight knock" that is more and more a possibilty for anyone who stands out from the crowd? Once people begin to disappear in numbers large enough to attract the attention of the sleep-walking American populace there will be little chance of peacefully reigning in our out-of-control Federal government. The time to act is now. Join the next demonstration against the war, start one to call attention to how Texas' Favorite Idiot has trampled our Constitutional liberties into the mud, write the spineless wimp that occupies your local Congressional district office and insist that he begin living up to his oath of office - which requires the protection of the Constitution and I'm not talking about shielding the document itself from destruction, write your local newspapers explaining why continuing to allow President Bush, Vice President Richard "Sparky Crashcart" Cheney, Attorney General Alberto "Torquemeda" Gonzales, and Secretary of State Condi "Head in the Sand" Rice to remain in office is a Bad Idea, do something to protect this country before it's too late. The government IS NOT THE COUNTRY and the sooner everyone realizes this the sooner we can kick the SOBs out of o
  • by cluckshot (658931) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:14PM (#18421217)

    Well the committee for State Security, (Russian translation KGB) is alive and well in the USA. It now comes out what I have been posting for some time that this was an effort to trounce the constitution.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      This is the most interesting point of view I have seen on /. since months. Yes, a governmental organization working to undermine constitutionnal rights would have been called communist during the Cold War...
  • by Chas (5144) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:14PM (#18421219) Homepage Journal
    I'd make a funny about "In Soviet Amerika", but it just ain't funny anymore.

    We need to step on these bastards necks NOW.
    • by Tackhead (54550)
      > I'd make a funny about "In Soviet Amerika", but it just ain't funny anymore.
      >
      > We need to step on these bastards necks NOW.

      If you want a picture of Soviet America, NOW you picture these bastards' boots stepping on YOUR neck!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You want big government? This is it.

      I still can't believe how many people think they can have their cake and eat it too. Enough is enough -- it's time to grow up and realize that injustice is proportional to the amount of power at the center.

      Concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth.
      -- R.J. Rummel

      Let's stop chasing impossible dreams and admit that he was absolutely correct.

  • you're probably above the law too.
  • Dual Responsibility (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Zon (969911) <thezon@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:14PM (#18421227)
    Well, phone companies have never had the greatest track record on upholding the rights of their customers, so it's no wonder the FBI tells its agents they don't have to fill out any paperwork. The companies just bend right over.
    • by SEAL (88488) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:30PM (#18421485)
      The phone companies are about as close to a government agency as you can get. Bell was essentially a government-sanctioned monopoly for years. Even since the breakup, the baby bells have slowly been merging back together. The U.S. government has ALWAYS had a hand in the telcos. Expecting phone companies to protect your records from the government is like trying to get a home loan without revealing your credit history. Good luck with that one.

      If you want privacy you're better off finding other means of communication.
      • by lawpoop (604919)
        The phone companies may have a lot of interaction with the government at various levels, but that doesn't mean that the government is one big happy record-sharing institution.

        The FBI can't just willy-nilly go requesting tax records from the IRS -- they have to have a warrant to do so. Neither can the IRS request your FBI file, if one exists. Government agencies, from local county registrars to Federal agencies are notorious for petty squabbles and infighting, and plain old bureaucratic machinations. Thoug
        • by SEAL (88488) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @08:33PM (#18423455)
          Don't get me wrong: I don't think it's unreasonable for people to expect better of the telcos.

          I'm just telling you why it's not going to happen. In a nutshell, they were handed a golden goose by the government. In order to keep that money-train rolling, they've willingly cooperated with government requests -- including unlawful ones.

          Yes, nowadays there's more of a duopoly between them and the cable companies. But don't think they are any better. One reason the government is scrutinizing VOIP is because they want the same level of oversight that they've had with the telcos for years prior.

          So when you see members of Congress pass bills such as the Patriot Act and others, granting overreaching powers to the FBI, think carefully for a moment. Considering that the average age [senate.gov] of Congress members is 55 for Representatives and 60 for Senators, most of them should be familiar with J. Edgar Hoover [wikipedia.org]. That should be required history for the younger generation as well. Substitute "terrorist" for "radical", with superior surveillance technology, and that's what you have today.

          When your elected representatives express shock and disbelief that the FBI could ever abuse its power, don't believe them. They know damn well what they are voting for from the start.
          • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:20PM (#18424687) Homepage Journal
            "Don't get me wrong: I don't think it's unreasonable for people to expect better of the telcos.

            I'm just telling you why it's not going to happen...
            "

            I have to grudgingly respect your point. I think there was a time in very recent American history ( i.e. before 9/11 ) when people would have raised a huge outcry is this story had broken. I think it was probably that way for the past 100 years. But like they kept telling us, "9/11 changed everything". I guess they were trying to hypnotize us with a mantra. It worked.

            So now, you are right. After torture, extraordinary renderings, illicit war, warrantless wiretaps, FBI sneak-and-peaks, nobody is surprised that telcos are sharing information with the government. I hope someday I'll be able to return to the country that I grew up in.
      • Expecting phone companies to protect your records from the government is like trying to get a home loan without revealing your credit history. Good luck with that one.

        In the case of getting a home loan without revealing credit history, that's asking another entity to take one hell of a financial risk on you without any knowledge of your financial reliability. That's rather unreasonable.

        While I do agree about the here-and-now practical circumstances of the phone companies in the US, that doesn't change the fact that it is reasonable to expect that government must go through due process to acquire private information about its citizens. Likewise, phone companies (and ot

      • by thule (9041)
        As far as I know, only some states have laws stating that CDR's are owned by the customer and not owned by the phone company. If they are owned by the phone company, they can do whatever they want with them. They can sell them. They can give them away. They can give them to the government. Traditionally CDR's have always been owned by the phone companies. It's only more recent years that people have spoken up and wanted those records to be owned by the customers so information cannot be sold to market
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:15PM (#18421249) Journal
    ... bitch at your phone companies.

    This isn't wire taps, this is getting your phone records. This is social engineering.

    You could do this too, you don't have to be a federal agent.

    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:19PM (#18421327)

      This is social engineering.

      No, this is abuse of authority.

      This is about removing accountability.

      We don't need a paper trail just for a paper trail. We need one to make sure that the requests are legitimate and fair.
      • It's a legal loophole. In most states, you do not own your CDR, the phone company does. Since they own it, they can do whatever they want with it.
      • Jail the agents? On what grounds?

        The concept here is very simple. The memo defines situations where the FBI will ask the phone company for a voluntary disclosure of information. They are not forcing the phone company to comply through some draconian legal provision- the phone company can easily deny the request if they do not agree with the exigency of the circumstances, and there is nothing that the FBI can do about it.

        Accountability has not been removed. According to the article, there will still be a
    • by maynard (3337)
      You could do this too, you don't have to be a federal agent.

      Only if you want to go to jail. Impersonating a federal agent is a felony.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:16PM (#18421257)
    > Apparently that whole due process thing doesn't include them.

    Well, of course it doesn't. What are you gonna do, call the cops? Oh, wait, the FBI are the cops!

    Silly citizens.

    • Heres a thing your government doesn't want you to have, a memory.

      I remember this little country over thar in Europe. Well the people got sick and tired of their government and revolted. They rounded up the king and queen and separated their heads from their necks.

      I suggest all your emails and letters to Congress finish with this little reminder:

      "Don't be a Louis the XIV !"

      • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @07:38PM (#18422997) Journal
        They rounded up the king and queen and separated their heads from their necks.

        That's all well and good in a monarchy, but what are you supposed to do in a democracy? Unfortunately, in a democracy, the chain of responsibility gets severed at every election. Lopping off Bush's head, as appealing as that may be, isn't going to solve the problem. He didn't authorize it (as far as we know). Suppose Clinton authorized it. Lopping of Clinton's head also isn't going to solve anything. He's out of the picture. So, who do we hold responsible? The current administration who know nothing about it, or the previous administration who are no longer in power?
  • Ripe for abuse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:18PM (#18421303) Homepage
    Well yeah. If you were going to use the powers of the USAPATRIOT act inappropriately, why would you keep a paper trail? That way the worst you can be accused of is not keeping the record, not whatever it is you actually did.

    Insufficient accountability morphs directly into a complete lack of accountability. Who is surprised by this? Who did not anticipate this over five years ago? Those who were blinded by fear. Everyone else was either outraged by the potential -- and thus innevitable -- abuse, or lying and appealing to the fearful. Don't worry, there doesn't need to be any safeguards because we promise to use our powers wisely and justly, and besides, don't you hate Terrorists?!
    • Well yeah. If you were going to use the powers of the USAPATRIOT act inappropriately, why would you keep a paper trail?
      Funny. Every time I express a similar line of thought I get swamped by trolls and creeps shouting "conspiracy paranoia".

      What's your secret to keeping the creeps off of you?
    • Re:Ripe for abuse (Score:5, Insightful)

      by incabulos (55835) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @06:20PM (#18422173)
      Don't worry, there doesn't need to be any safeguards because we promise to use our powers wisely and justly, and besides, don't you hate Terrorists?!

      The FBI seems to love terrorists, because they have bought about a regime in which anyone merely claiming to be an FBI agent can ask for and receive any confidential or private information on any US citizen. The terrorists will surely be posing as agents NOW, and because there is no validation of authority, paper trail or any safeguards at all, they will be able to find out everything they want to know.

      Robert Mueller and the rest of his complicit conspirators need to be in jail.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:18PM (#18421309) Journal
    FTA (emphasis mine):

    The new guidance to agents cites a provision in federal law allowing a telephone provider to voluntarily turn over phone records to law enforcement figures "in good faith" if they "believe that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay," a senior FBI official said.

    Hmm. That law they cite provides a justification for a telephone provider to turn over records; it does not provide a justification for law enforcement to request the records. Semantics, but important.

    That the law clarifies under what kind of emergency such requests can be made is good-with-a-capital-G. What remains to be seen is if the old definition of emergency ("I can't be bothered with paperwork") will continue to be the de facto reason for a subpoena-less request.

    IMO, any federal agent who acts outside the law wrt information requests should be prosecuted. They've broken the law no less than someone who smoked a joint -- and the cumulative negative effects on society are probably far worse for those who act outside the law in the name of the law.
    • by carpeweb (949895)

      That law they cite
      I don't think "guidance" has the force of law. Granted, if it's your boss giving you "guidance", it's not irrelevant, but let's not confuse hierarchy with law.
  • by diesel66 (254283) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:20PM (#18421337)
    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
  • Don't worry citizens, all you have to do is trust your government and obey the law. Then you can be assured that when the government asks questions, it's not about you. Because, as we all know, the FBI only makes requests about Bad Guys. The are from the Executive Branch, after all, and it's only the Judicial branch that feels you are "innocent until proven guilty".
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:30PM (#18421483)
    the submitter seems to have his pants in a knot over the FBI's misconduct, but he fails to realize that all police in all countries try to pull dirty tricks like that, and have done so for many decades. The difference between a free society governed by the rule of law and a dictatorship is that, in a free society, telcos have the liberty and *duty* to tell the police to sod off and come back with a proper warrant.

    That US telcos comply to such oral requests alone should tell you something of the state of this country, which is the merging of the corporate world and the state. As in country that have this other form of government... [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Qzukk (229616)
      That US telcos comply to such oral requests alone should tell you something of the state of this country, which is the merging of the corporate world and the state.

      Merging of the corporate world, what?

      No, the reason this is happening is because every time a company does something bad (whether its censorship, seizing assets, turning people over to the gestapo, or whatnot) the droning starts. Millions of people chanting in unison: "The Constitution only applies to the government. The Constitution only appli
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fabs64 (657132)
      I don't get this.. do you not have privacy laws in the U.S.?
      I work (through three contractor levels of abstraction) for a telco here in Aus, and there are laws and BIG penalties for giving out customer records to anyone, including the police, who doesn't have the correct authority
      What I'm trying to say is, aren't the US telco's here breaking a few laws?
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @08:16PM (#18423305) Homepage
        I don't get this.. do you not have privacy laws in the U.S.?
        I work (through three contractor levels of abstraction) for a telco here in Aus, and there are laws and BIG penalties for giving out customer records to anyone, including the police, who doesn't have the correct authority
        What I'm trying to say is, aren't the US telco's here breaking a few laws?


        No, because the USAPATRIOT Act gives the FBI the authority to get this information from the telcos.

        Now USAPATRIOT only grants that authority under certain circumstances, and given that the FBI takes certain actions such as filing the correct paperwork afterward, but the telco has no way of knowing that the situation is really how the FBI says, nor does it have any idea that the FBI is not producing the correct paperwork for accountability. Basically, they have little choice but to comply.

        Normally in the United States if you want to know if an agent of the law has the proper authority to get information or search your premises, you ask to see the warrant.

        The whole problem with USAPATRIOT is that it makes warrants unecessary in certain circumstances, and worse it allows the FBI to decide what those circumstances are, and even worse it does not at any point require a judge to verify that the circumstances were such that a warrant could be bypassed. It basically grants law enforcement super-powers, then puts them on the honor system for not abusing those powers.

        Making this into a problem of the telcos is tempting, and yeah I would love it if they fought back, but this is at its heart a problem of our government and expecting the telcos to fight the government for us is naive.
        • by fabs64 (657132)
          Sounds like what you're talking about is "exigent circumstances", which we have here too, but don't these require the warrant to be supplied to the telco at a later date?
          And if so then how does this not get followed up on?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by apathy maybe (922212)
      >in a free society, telcos have the liberty and *duty* to tell the police to sod off and come back with a proper warrant.

      Funny how for poor people, black people, Muslims or whomever (and often times these overlap) this doesn't work. If you tell the cops to sod off, they arrest you for whatever damn thing they please. After all, what is going to happen? They can search you without a warrant, and if you refuse, they arrest you then search you. Most you can do is log the incidents, and then shoot the fuc
    • by fyoder (857358)
      Except wikipedia notes that

      Fascism has been defunct in the Western world as a major political ideology since the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II.

      So even if a gov't has a large measure of nationalism, authoritarianism, militarism, and corporatism, we can't call it fascist, because it was defeated in the second world war.

      It may be that we need a new term for something similar, something which hasn't been defeated yet.

  • by Gnpatton (796694) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:31PM (#18421505)
    That summary is completetly out of touch with the actual article. If you RTFA there is no mention of the Patriot Act, equally the /.summary doesn't even bother to mention the unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act in question.

    Thanks for that completely useless and misleading article summary.
  • by kalirion (728907) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:45PM (#18421725)
    How did they find out about this? Interviews?
  • by iPaul (559200) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:45PM (#18421727) Homepage
    on CSPAN radio. (What a life, eh?) Long story short - one rep said in response to the FBI saying "they'll do their best" to clean up the situation, was "If you don't clean it up, you won't have these NSO/NSL letters to worry about any more." (Taking them away).

    The FBI counsel came back to that whole "in an emergency" thing, but they cannot gaurantee that it's an emergency. They couldn't even gaurantee it was part of an investigation (a requirement). What a mess we've created these last six years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ArcherB (796902) *
      What a mess we've created these last six years.

      What does the last six years have to do with anything? Didn't the Clintons [assumption.edu] use FBI files against their political opponents? At least this is done under the guise of National Security and not for political intimidation.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending this. I am telling you to not assume that this started when Bush took office. If anything, they're making a step in the right direction. I guess if you are going to abuse governmental powers, at least do
      • Clinton's been out for 6 years. Go to hell.
        • by ArcherB (796902) *
          Clinton's been out for 6 years. Go to hell.

          I'm sure Senator Clinton will be quite surprised to find out that she has been doing charity work all this time.

  • by tsotha (720379) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:49PM (#18421787)

    This is a story about the FBI calling up and making a request that doesn't have the force of law. If you want to do something about this call up your phone company and ask what the policy is regarding oral requests from the FBI. If you don't like it, use a different one.

    And we're not talking about wiretaps, here. We're talking about records of who you call. The courts have ruled, over the years, that this data is not yours. It belongs to the phone company. In fact, those court rulings are probably what prompted the change in policy.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @06:24PM (#18422195) Homepage

    Much wiretapping in the US is actually outsourced to Verisign. Verisign's NetDiscovery [verisign.com] center provides a full-service wiretapping service, with hooks into telcos, cellular networks, VoIP providers, cable TV systems, wireless data networks, and ISPs. Verisign's proprietary back door into the SS7 telephone signaling control network makes this not only possible, but allows Verisign to offer wiretapping services at a lower cost.

    Verisign is extending their wiretapping network internationally. Italy is already hooked up. [64.233.167.104]

    So if Congress or the press wants to look into this matter, the place to go is Verisign's Network Security Office. Also, attending Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Cybercrime Investigations and Intelligence Gathering Conference and Expo [telestrategies.com] in May, in Washington, DC. "Now that most nations of the world require lawful interception support of VoIP and other IP-based services, ISS World Spring 2007 is a must attend event." Talks include "Best Practices for Successful Deployments of Word Spotting Technology" and "Content and P2P Monitoring and Filtering". Major topics for this year include inteconnecting multiple intercept systems to allow easier remote access.

    • Mod parent up (Score:3, Informative)

      by carpeweb (949895)
      Even if wiretapping is a teensy bit OT from TFA, the Verisign stuff is still very interesting and consistent with the drift of this thread.
  • by Weirsbaski (585954) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @07:27PM (#18422905)
    Then they were expected to issue a grand jury subpoena or a 'national security letter,' which legally authorized the collection after the fact. Agents often did not follow up with that paperwork, the inspector general's investigation found. The new instructions tell agents there is no need to follow up with national security letters or subpoenas. The agents are also told that... they may make requests orally, with no paperwork sent to phone companies.

    If the feds didn't follow up with the required paperwork, then does this even qualify as a patriot-act request? Seems like the companies could follow up in next month's phone bill:

    Dear Customer,

    On Jan 1, 2007 the FBI invoked the patriot act to ask for the records of John Q Smith, saying they would provide us with a subpoena in a timely fashion to keep this request confidential.

    The subpoena was never brought to us. We thought you might like to know.

    Sincerely,
    Phone Company
  • You know, even on the best of computers, sometimes you just have to reset. Memory leaks, background processes fail to exit entirely but leave no warning trail, Windows needs an update...

    Can someone find the "reset" button on the U.S. Government and hit it on the way out? Thanks.
  • by mmell (832646)
    "What is J. Edgar Hoover doing on your telephone?"

    "Why shouldn't he be on my phone - he's on everybody else's!"

  • They have rendered the Constitution irrelevant.

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