No Oversight in Seizure of AP Phone Records

The story of the DOJ seizing phone records of reporters from the Associated Press just gets worse and worse. I had asked in the immediate aftermath whether the DOJ had gotten a judicial subpoena or merely used an administrative one; the answer is the latter, which means no oversight at all from a judge. And Verizon turned those records over immediately:

When the feds came knocking for AP journalists’ call records last year, Verizon apparently turned the data over with no questions asked. The New York Times, citing an AP employee, reported Tuesday that at least two of the reporters’ personal cellphone records “were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena.”…

Controversially, the AP was not given advance notice of the seizure, which is consideredthe usual protocol when the government is seeking to obtain journalists’ records. However, Verizon Wireless could have notified the reporters, which may have helped them challenge its legality. Companies like Dropbox and Twitter have made it their policy to inform users (whenever possible) that the government is seeking access to their data, and Twitter has been applauded for how it has been willing to challenge authorities’ surveillance attempts in court. But Verizon—like AT&T, Facebook, and Comcast—has beencriticized in the past for its lack of willingness to stand up for users’ privacy rights, which suggests its decision to hand over AP reporters’ records is true to form. The company has been rated as one of the worst in the United States for three consecutive years in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” reports.

Now let’s rewind the clock to 2008, when the Senate was debating the FISA amendments bill. Then-Senator Obama publicly pledged that if that bill included immunity for the telecom companies from any civil suits arising from their turning over of information to the government without a warrant, he would filibuster the bill. Not only did he not filibuster the bill, which did include telecom immunity, he voted for it. And here we have a major telecom company turning over phone records of reporters to the FBI with no warrants at all, as required by the 4th Amendment.

The DOJ/FBI didn’t have to go to a judge and show that the seizure of those records was necessary and justified, they only had to sign off on it themselves. There is a reason why the Constitution includes such safeguards, because if you don’t have any checks at all on what one branch of the government can do, abuses are inevitable. We should have learned this from the FBI’s decades-long campaign to undermine civil rights groups with illegal wiretaps and other misconduct.

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  • You and your whining about “constitutional rights.” The Constitution hasn’t meant jack since the Reagan era, and each new administration seems hell-bent to out-do his predecessors in trashing it. And ever since Bush II hit upon the brilliant idea of responding “National Security” to any and all criticism, the process will only accelerate.

    Search warrants? “National security.”

    Secure in your home and possessions? “National security.”

    Due process? “National security.”

    Face your accuser? “National security.”

    Indictment by a grand jury? “National security.”

    Speedy and public trial? “National security.”

    By a civil jury of your peers? “National security.”

    Protection from cruel and unusual punishment? “National security.”

    See how easy it is?

    We are seeing First Amendment rights being curtailed too, although not quite so openly. Since President Clinton came up with the idea of “protest zones,” free speech and peaceful demonstrations are being increasingly criminalized. Despite court rulings allowing people to video tape police officers in action, very little is done to stop police from stealing cameras and destroying evidence in direct violation of the law. People are placed in solitary confinement in federal prisons for months at a time, with no charges ever being filed against them, solely for the “crime” of their ideology and personal associations.

    “Constitutional rights” have become a quaint, outdated idea.

  • trucreep

    It’ll take a more aware and engaged public if we’re to stop this madness.

  • @trucreep #2 – Agreed, but how do we get there? It is very clear that the six media conglomerates who own 90% of what this nation reads, watches and listens to cannot be relied on. What little independent media still exists simply does not have the reach, and a few well-placed “they hate America”s will quash what influence an informed voice would have.

    And then there is the apparent fact that few Americans really care about their constitutional rights. We have become so ill informed, and differing views have become so rare in the media, that I just do not see a popular movement getting beyond the “hippie radical fringe” that was the fate of the Occupy movement.

    What do you suggest?