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Six Degrees Of Your Privacy

kevin_bacon_game.gifIn case you were wondering about the need for individual, particularized warrants for American citizens under FISA, wonder no more:

…Verizon also disclosed that the FBI, using administrative subpoenas, sought information identifying not just a person making a call, but all the people that customer called, as well as the people those people called. Verizon does not keep data on this “two-generation community of interest” for customers, but the request highlights the broad reach of the government’s quest for data.

The disclosures, in a letter from Verizon to three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigating the carriers’ participation in government surveillance programs, demonstrated the willingness of telecom companies to comply with government requests for data, even, at times, without traditional legal supporting documents. The committee members also got letters from AT&T and Qwest Communications International, but those letters did not provide details on customer data given to the government. None of the three carriers gave details on any classified government surveillance program.

From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis 720 times, it said in the letter. The records included Internet protocol addresses as well as phone data. In that period, Verizon turned over information a total of 94,000 times to federal authorities armed with a subpoena or court order, the letter said. The information was used for a range of criminal investigations, including kidnapping and child-predator cases and counter-terrorism investigations.

Verizon and AT&T said it was not their role to second-guess the legitimacy of emergency government requests….  (emphasis mine)

Beyond the blatant attempt at fobbing this onto the government by playing the “we’re just being patriotic and who are we to ask questions” game, playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with people’s phone records without any third-party court review of the requests is an open door for abuse.  

Multiply that across every telecommunications company in the United States and the number of years that the Bush Administration has been end-running the FISA court altogether using Patriot Act provisions that were meant as emergency situation stop-gaps (and not as everyday occurrances).  Add in the fact that, as ex-Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio says, the Bush Administration was already pushing for these legal end-runs a full six months prior to 9/11/01…and you have a recipe for an Administration who could give a rat’s ass about the rule of law, and which still didn’t keep America safe from attack even with their end-run of FISA. 

Look at the article snippet: there were 94,000 times that Verizon turned over information under a lawful subpoena and/or court order.  Why the end-run of 720 times of emergency information grabs?   Some of these might have been wholly legitimate emergency situations, but the overuse of these provisions across the board coupled with significant questions about security of the information gathered — including the recent review saying that they were used in some situations for wholly inappropriate reasons without remotely adequate oversight and supervision — ought to raise a whole host of red flags for potential abuse.

Do you trust George Bush and Dick Cheney not to misuse their authority or not overreach in their information grabs?  Me neither.

For the record, I used to get phone records and other information for criminal prosecutions from these companies all the time.  I used a warrant which came with judicial review of the particulars.  You know why?  Because that is what the law requires.  With great power comes a great responsibility to ensure that this power is used wisely and carefully.

National security concerns are important — but so is following the law and upholding the Constitution.  We must respect both security and liberty.  Please make some calls regarding FISA today — and tell your Senators and Representatives to say no to retroactive immunity for telecoms — because we aren’t even close to knowing the full story on this mess yet.  Don’t forget that Cheney’s Law will be broadcast this evening on Frontline. I hear it’s going to be a doozy…

More from Jack at Balkinization (including a streaming BloggingheadsTV interview with Jack on FISA, the rule of law and national security concerns) and Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

(H/T to reader Ima Patriot Too for the heads up on this.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com