FBI pays telecoms for web, phone records

The FBI is to pay major telecom companies to store Internet and phone records for years for the agency's in anti-terror investigations.

FBI pays telecoms for web, phone records
The FBI is planning to pay major telecommunications companies to store Internet and phone records for years for the agency's in anti-terror investigations, reported the Washington Post on Wednesday, July 25.

The idea is to create and keep databases of phones and Internet records by Telecoms to deliver expeditiously to the FBI when asked for, said a government official on condition of anonymity.

To pay the cost, the FBI has asked Congress for a 5-million-budget a year, said the Post citing FBI officials and budget documents.

The official said that Telecoms have already been providing data to the US government and charging for it.

The administration has paid nearly $1.8 million a year for the cost since the 9/11 attacks, he added.

The Post said that under the proposal, the FBI would not have direct access to the data records.

The FBI would only obtain the information after presenting a subpoena or an administrative warrant known as a national security letter, it said.

"We have never asked for the ability to have direct access to or to 'data mine' telephone company databases," said John Miller, the FBI's assistant director for public affairs.

"The budget request simply seeks to absorb the cost to the service provider of developing an efficient electronic system for them to retain and deliver the information after it is legally requested."

The Post said that the Bush administration is seeking to win immunity for Telecoms from criminal and civil liability for any role in the surveillance program.

Ever since 9/11, the Bush administration has been spying on Americans and tapping into the country's main communication networks without court warrants.


"It would essentially create warehouses full of Americans' private records that would be at the disposal of the government for wholesale abuse," said Fredrickson

The FBI proposal has drawn flak from US human rights and advocacy groups.

The proposal "is circumventing the law by paying companies to do something the FBI couldn't do itself legally," said Michael German, American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel on national security.

"Going around the Fourth Amendment by paying private companies to hoard our phone records is outrageous."

A recent Justice Department report showed that FBI officials were abusing national security letters to retain data from telecom companies.

In one case, a senior FBI official signed the letters without including the required proof linked to FBI counterterrorism or espionage investigations.

The report also revealed the issuance of "exigent letters" by the FBI asking telephone companies for information while providing subpoenas later.

In many cases, the FBI agents did not follow up.

Lawyer Mark J. Zwillinger said Telecoms see no "business reason" in becoming the investigative arm of the government.

"That's really what the government is asking for: 'Keep data on hundreds of millions of users just in case we need to get data for 15 individuals'," said Zwillinger, who represents Internet service providers.

Last year, US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III urged Telecoms to retain data records for two years.

A legislation has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration requiring companies to keep the data records.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Temmuz 2007, 18:54