US DOJ: Operators helped FBI illegally obtain phone records

The DOJ issued a report detailing ways that the FBI skirted the law to get phone records

The FBI was so cavalier -- and telecom companies so eager to help -- that a verbal request or even one written on a Post-it note was enough for operators to hand over customer phone records, according to a damning report released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.

The 289-page report details findings of the DOJ’s investigation into the FBI’s policies for requesting phone records from 2003 through 2006.

It found that in many cases the FBI issued written requests for telephone information, saying that it had secured the proper legal authority to make such requests, even though it didn’t.

Also, the report found that the FBI used far more casual methods to obtain records, including verbal requests and requests written on Post-it notes.

When the FBI did use formal written requests, it did not track their use or keep copies of them, the report found.

Some telecom employees, who were based in FBI offices so as to quickly respond to such requests, said that they assumed that the requests were based on a critical national security investigation, although at least one expressed doubts about the circumstances surrounding requests. In fact, some telecom company employees were so enthusiastic to help that they would generate the formal written requests for telephone records on behalf of the FBI.

The report refers to three telecom providers that placed employees in FBI offices, but it does not name the operators.

When asked about internal policies for responding to such requests for customer information, AT&T and Verizon had no comment. Qwest did not respond to requests for comment.

The report also found that the FBI got records and calling-activity information on reporters from the Washington Post and the New York Times without complying with relevant laws. “We concluded that the FBI’s acquisition of these records constituted a complete breakdown in the required department procedures for approving the issuance of grand jury subpoenas to obtain reporters' toll billing records,” according to the report.

Following previous reports issued by the DOJ regarding FBI phone-record request policies, the agency made only halfhearted attempts to address the problem, the report said. From 2003 to 2007, “the FBI’s actions were seriously deficient and ill-conceived and the FBI failed to ensure that it complied with the law and FBI policy when obtaining telephone records from the on site communications service providers,” the report found.

However, after 2007, the agency made some serious changes that have helped, the DOJ said, although it recommended further action to ensure that the FBI does not continue to illegally obtain phone records.

In a statement, the FBI pointed out that the report does not find that any FBI employee obtained records for reasons other than legitimate investigative interest. It also said that it has purged records found to have been obtained without the proper process.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized how long the illegal phone-record requests were allowed to continue and how much prodding it took for the FBI to change its policies. The EFF has filed a lawsuit against the government and said that the violations revealed in the DOJ document have not been disclosed by the FBI during the course of the ongoing lawsuit.

Tags security

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service

14 Comments

Anonymous Citizen

1

FBI using illegal requests for phone tapping

It's tragic that the FBI uses illegal and immoral methods to gather information on citizens. It's tragic for all of us, as well as the agency. To fight crime by becoming a criminal makes no sense. It's a betrayal of the trust put into the FBI by the government and law abiding people. Ultimately it damages the work done to keep society safe. The FBI has a huge workload, and cleaning up the mess made by it's own illegal activities adds to this workload. It's not as easy as pretending it doesn't matter.

Anonymous

2

FBI illegal telephone recortd requests

I would seriously like to know what "legitimate invgestigative reasons..." there were for aquiring the Washington Post and NT Times reporters records!

I'm not willing to believe those records were not for legitimate reasons.

And what will the repercussions be? In my opinion, willfully breaking the law is cause for dismissal at the least and jail time.

Anonymous

3

fuck the police

Jessy Brown

4

cool ,i admire FBI

Anonymous

5

So what else is new? The government the FBI the CIA the NSA Homeland Securityhas will continue to take away our freedom. Not our freedoms but our very freedom. We are all fools. Led by our weakness for money power and self gratificatin. We have sold the soul of Democracy. The wolves are circling the weak. We are the weak it's us they want to eat. Better start to think. Maybe it's too late. To late to stop our fate.

Anonymous

6

i think FBI is a pretty cool guy

eh taps phones and doesn't afraid of anything!

Anonymous

7

wow

Don't they call those post-it's national security letters?

Evilbughead

8

The USA is not a democracy it is a Republic, and it's never too late to Stop the Tyranny from completely enveloping the world

Evilbughead

9

The Rebuplic is not dead

The USA is not a democracy it is a Republic, and it's never too late to Stop the Tyranny from completely enveloping the world

Anonymous

10

Nothing New Under The Sun

This is a byproduct of loss of the rule of law, shredding the Constitution and Bill Of Rights. Get used to it.

Kand.in.Sky

11

fail

this is not new - but there is something wrong with the system that is now public, even if it was only between 2003 through 2006.
so in future t will take longer, in about 10 years you will know what happened today... happy, happy, joy, joy!

#k.

Anonymous

12

Actually...

The US is a Representative Democracy.

Anonymous

13

GTA IV quote

The FBI is probably who the GTA IV folks were thinking of when they had one radio personality say, "Democracy is worth suppressing rights for."

John Kelly

14

Where are the neocons?

I'm wondering why none of the Bush/Cheney apologist crowd have written in to say this all necessary, we were at war (and we still are), those lily-livered limp-wristed pantywaist liberals want to put handcuffs on the police instead of on terrorists, and we should all be ready to sacrifice our rights to defend our freedom.

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