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FBI Violated Electronic Communications Privacy Act 285

An anonymous reader writes to tell us of a report from the Washington Post which alleges that the FBI "illegally collected more than 2,000 US telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records." The report continues, "E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats. ... FBI officials told The Post that their own review has found that about half of the 4,400 toll records collected in emergency situations or with after-the-fact approvals were done in technical violation of the law. The searches involved only records of calls and not the content of the calls. In some cases, agents broadened their searches to gather numbers two and three degrees of separation from the original request, documents show."
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FBI Violated Electronic Communications Privacy Act

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  • Duhh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:21AM (#30819468)

    Your tax dollars aren't being used to your benefit. Your never going to get propper health care when it's more profitable for politicians to sell you out to insurance companies for 'campaign contributions'

    I can't even find out how much my insurance company will cover for a given procedure. They refuse to tell me until its to late.

    But the FBI can break the law and spy on me all day...

    • Re:Duhh... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:25AM (#30819550) Homepage Journal

      And they have been able to twist the "healthcare" debate into a discussion about government taking away "freedoms"... while this is going on under their noses.

      We've got a lot of people here in the US right now that are running after not only RED herrings, but blue, pink, orange and red pokadotted herrings as well.

      • Re:Duhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by megamerican ( 1073936 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:50AM (#30819902)

        Many American's, whether they are democrat or republican aren't very happy with Obama because he promised two major things with healthcare: he would not force people to buy insurance and that he would televise healthcare discussions with insurance and big pharma companies.

        He did a complete 180 on both of those promises. Many democrats realize what Congressman Dennis Kucinich said, that the current healthcare bills are bailouts to the insurance companies and wall street.

        On topic for the FBI; they have always broken the law in very deliberate ways. Go read about the FBI's COINTELPRO operations.

        You can watch this documentary: COINTELPRO: The FBI's war on black America [google.com]

        Or you can read this Church Committee Report [icdc.com] on how the FBI illegally spied on Martin Luther King Jr. for years, using the Communist scare to justify their actions (the more things that change...)

        There are plenty of legitimate reasons why people don't trust their government and it has nothing to do with what color fish people enjoy consuming. This country was founded on the principle of treating government actions with a large dose of skepticism.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by svtdragon ( 917476 )
          And people with practical foresight knew that no system can make insurance companies cover you, in spite of preexisting conditions, unless they had a mandate of some kind. The logical way that he could have done so would've been an employer mandate, but in a way you're forcing business owners to buy it, and they're people too. So no matter what you'll have some people upset.

          I happen to prefer the employer mandate, but *some* form of mandate is absolutely necessary to avoid a death spiral in the indus
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Shakrai ( 717556 )

            The logical way that he could have done so would've been an employer mandate

            That's only "logical" if you operate in a vacuum and ignore the realities of running a business. Such a mandate would drive many companies out of business in the worst case or force them to lay off workers in the best case. You don't fix unemployment problems by burdening employers with unfunded mandates.

  • by JeffSpudrinski ( 1310127 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:23AM (#30819510)

    The FBI violated our privacy and civil rights? Surely not, I tell you!


    • by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:26AM (#30819568)
      This is exactly why we protect our civil liberties. A lot of people are willing to hand over exceptional rights to the government to make them safe from terrorism. The reason we don't do that is because the government abuses our rights. Proponents for strong government say it's a slippery slope argument, fortunately, we now have the evidence of wrong-doing to point back and show why rights need to be protected, and people responsible for abusing those rights should be severely prosecuted.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by davester666 ( 731373 )

        But if there is no real penalty being applied when this happens, can it really be considered illegal?

        The FBI has been repeatedly caught doing these and other things such as using NSL's improperly, and even lying to Congress, and yet I never hear "and so and so who did it went to jail" or even "and those involved were fired".

  • Surprised? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by guruevi ( 827432 )

    When even the Supreme Court doesn't hold up the constitution as a valid basis there is not much that we can do except for revolt - but even if you get a critical mass to do that, they'll just stick the army on you or use near-lethal weaponry.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jhoegl ( 638955 )
      Because revolution has never been bloodless. O.o

      People revolt because they feel they have no other option and there are leaders strong enough to rally them. Look at the shit people took in Iraq and never revolted.
      Yet, look at Indias revolution.

      History shows that revolution happens, but only after years of oppression. Here in the USA, we get perceived renewed hope every 4, 6, to 8 years. Problem is, the "other guy" always did it even though those that actually did it have been in power throughout.
      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet_revolution
      • And that's basically what the whole surveillance is about: Ensuring no body emerges that could work as a focal point. Do you think India would have had a successful revolution without Ghandi? Or someone who could take his place? Successful revolutions without a head are rare in history.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 91degrees ( 207121 )
      Soldiers are citizens too. And tend to dislike firing on their own countrymen.

      Most successful revolutions have had a large chunk of the army on their side as well. Although you do need a pretty corrupt government for this to happen, and the Us is nowhere near there yet.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Most successful revolutions have had a large chunk of the army on their side as well.

        And most unsuccessful revolutions have been crushed by the army. Funny how that works out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Alinabi ( 464689 )

        Soldiers are citizens too. And tend to dislike firing on their own countrymen.

        That has rarely been the case throughout history.

      • Are you sure that they're not through and out on the other side, yet ? It's not written anywhere that you can't buy the army, too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by webweave ( 94683 )

        Kent State? May 4th 1970 Ohio National Guard from over 300 feet away fires into a crowd of unarmed students killing four, one student is shot in the back and one student not involved it the protest is killed from a stray bullet. Courts said the Guard was justified killing the unarmed and distant students and not even an apology was issued.

      • Certainly soldiers are citizens. But you must not underestimate how little real information soldiers get.

        When you look at how the Soviet systems crushed revolutions, you will notice that the soldiers were usually crucial for the success of the oppression. How could they fight against someone who basically did what they wanted themselves, more freedom? Simply by giving them false information. Those soldiers were told that it wasn't a revolution backed by the people, they were told that a few insurgents toppl

  • by mrRay720 ( 874710 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:25AM (#30819544)

    Had they collected 16 fewer records, it could have been so much more appropriate.

  • by snowraver1 ( 1052510 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:28AM (#30819596)
    Some Judges need to let some guilty people walk to teach the FBI that they have to play by the rules. I don't know how often that happens in the USofA, but clearly it's not enough. I know that in Canada, it is not that uncommon to have evidence invalidated because of invalid collection technique.
    • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:37AM (#30819690)

      Some Judges need to let some guilty people walk to teach the FBI that they have to play by the rules.

      How does that punish the FBI? We the People, then have to deal with the criminals.

      Instead, punish the FBI, by punishing the FBI. Fire their asses.

      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        Instead, punish the FBI, by punishing the FBI. Fire their asses... out of a cannon. Maybe aimed at a country they'd feel more comfortable in, like North Korea or Iran.

      • by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @01:36PM (#30821390) Journal

        Instead, punish the FBI, by punishing the FBI. Fire their asses.

        Fire them? That should just be the start of it. Indictments, followed by a criminal trial, followed by a stint in prison if found guilty is what should happen to them. Will it? Probably not, but one can hope that there is still a shred of sanity left.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BobMcD ( 601576 )

          What we need are the names. Then those wronged by the FBI could file suit in Federal court, due to the seriousness of the allegation that they were involved in a terrorist attack.

    • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:38AM (#30819706)

      How about making some of the guilty in the FBI do the perp walk?

      Deliberate illegal acts should lead to jail time. Law enforcement officers are not above the law.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by evil_aar0n ( 1001515 )

        > Law enforcement officers are not above the law.

        Sure they are. Two recent events:

        1. I'm driving a little behind a NY state trooper on the expressway. I'm in the normal lane, on the right, and the trooper's in the passing lane, though he's not passing anyone; he's just cruising, there. A county sheriff comes up behind us, lights and siren going, in the passing lane, and the statie does nothing: doesn't move over to the right lane, doesn't speed up, doesn't slow down - nothing. After following the sta

      • by Rasputin ( 5106 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @02:32PM (#30822268) Homepage

        "Deliberate illegal acts should lead to jail time. Law enforcement officers are not above the law."

        Yeah, the problem is Barack Obama chose not to pursue the crimes of the Bush Administration. He believed that doing so would cause a Republican backlash. It is an understandable strategy, but leaves no room for JUSTICE. It also hasn't prompted the right-wingers to cut him any slack.

      • by mpe ( 36238 )
        Deliberate illegal acts should lead to jail time. Law enforcement officers are not above the law.

        If anything they should face a harsher sentence than a regular member of the public.
    • by Shatrat ( 855151 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:42AM (#30819774)
      It happens all the time and it doesn't really do anything but put criminals back on the streets.
      What should be done is convict the criminal and then turn around and convict the investigator who broke the law during the course of the investigation.
      What you propose is just 'two wrongs make a right as long as two different people commit them'.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 )

        No, you shouldn't convict the criminal based on illegally obtained evidence.

        The reason for this is simple.

        Do you know of every possible statute in your law that could put you behind bars if you violated it?
        In Canada, we have the Criminal Code, for which most violations have the option of a jail term. There are lawyers who have made it their life's work for decades to work with only the criminal code, and still don't have it all down.

        Then on top of that, there are the various tax, anti-terrorist crap, immig

      • We theoretically have this in Sweden and I can guarantee you don't want it.

        The part about having any evidence admittable in court works fine. The second part never works or at least I have never heard of any cop/prosecutor getting in any trouble for unlawfully collected evidence. No matter what you do you're fucked but at least in the US you get less fucked than in most countries.
      • Police have a huge advantage when it comes to evading the law. If you don't take away their motivation to perform illegal investigations they will do whatever the hell they want because they are unlikely to be caught. And perversely they would be less likely to be caught when abusing the rights of the innocent, since those cases would be dropped before coming under the scrutiny of the judge and defense counsel at trial.
    • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:51AM (#30819914)

      FBI officials told The Post that their own review has found that about half of the 4,400 toll records collected in emergency situations or with after-the-fact approvals were done in technical violation of the law. (emphasis added)

      It seldom happens here anymore because of the idea of "technicalities". Certain factions in the US -- chiefly the one that, with unconscious irony, is always calling for "law and order" -- have brainwashed large portions of the public into believing that the law doesn't or at least shouldn't matter in cases where the outcome displeases them. When someone is acquitted because law enforcement agencies trampled all over the law during their investigation, they are regarded as "getting off on a technicality", and it generally triggers a backlash against the rule of law and accusations that the courts in question are "soft on crime". Of course, what has happened is that the courts in question are actually tough on crime even when the crimes are committed by law enforcement, and they are far-sighted enough to know that treating law enforcement agencies as being above the law is the royal road to serfdom, but the yokels don't get it. In their view, the function of the law is to dish out punishment, not to maintain actual order, and anything that gets in the way of punishing people -- often including their actual innocence -- angers them.

      Unfortunately, there's not a lot of sympathy among those types for enforcing proper police procedure. They're the same people who hold the view that if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't care about being searched. And it's true enough that they have nothing to hide inside their trailer parks, so why worry?

      I wouldn't expect anything to change until the "law and order" faction grasps the fact that the expression "technical violation of the law" has no actual meaning; something is in violation of the law or it is not, and if the law is to lead to justice, it must apply to everyone equally, whether it's a thug holding up a liquor store or a better-dressed thug illegally wiretapping American citizens.

    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:59AM (#30820044) Homepage

      Some Judges need to let some guilty people walk to teach the FBI that they have to play by the rules. I don't know how often that happens in the USofA, but clearly it's not enough. I know that in Canada, it is not that uncommon to have evidence invalidated because of invalid collection technique.

      It's not uncommon in the US either for improperly acquired evidence to be invalidated, and depending on the importance of that evidence for the accused to walk. That's generally been the "teeth" in the 4th Amendment and the rules of evidence. It's why cops always read you your Miranda Rights, because Miranda was a guy who was pretty much as guilty as they come but was tricked into thinking he didn't have any rights and had to confess, so his confession was thrown out and he walked.

      The thing is, it's not clear that any of these investigations resulted in actual arrests or charges or anything. It's not clear to what purpose they were getting these records. All I can see from the article is that the agents got these records by invoking "nonexistent emergencies". Well if the emergency was non-existent, it's not hard to imagine that the crime was non-existent too.

      The impression I get is basically the FBI going on fishing expeditions. Fishing expeditions that not only came to naught and violated civil liberties, but also overloaded their communications analysts with crap that had nothing to do with actual terrorist threats. So the FBI's counsel can say that they only "technically" violated the law but that the agents were only trying to stop the next terrorist attack, and hey that might even be true, but the practical result was they made it harder to stop the real terrorist threats with their sloppy and illegal work.

      Hey, who would have thought that the FBI "technically" violating the law would be a bad thing both to those who value civil liberties, and to "Ends justify the means" types?

    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

      I don't think these illegal wiretaps lead to any convictions. So there is no case, no judge, and no defendant.

  • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:29AM (#30819604) Homepage

    After diligently criticizing the powers of government for over 11 months, we have more proof that Obama is destroying America.


    Your Fox Opinutainment Team

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumRiff ( 120817 )

      Why will Obama not Deny that he signed each one of these requests? I have heard that several of them were related to Glen Beck killing and raping a young girl in 1990. [gb1990.net]

      Why won't Glen Beck Deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990? And why won't President Obamba deny that he signed each one of these orders personally?

      (ever notice how when the last administration was in, certain people got mad, and corrected you that "It is PRESIDENT Bush", and those same people call our current president by his las

    • After diligently criticizing the powers of government for over 11 months, we have more proof that Obama is destroying America.


      Your Fox Opinutainment Team

      Obama destroying something? it can't be! they gave him the nobel peace prize!

    • Yes, except that it's A) The Washington Post, not FOX, and B) between 2002-2006, solidly in Bush's term. FOX is also carrying the story [foxnews.com], and they also say--right up front, in the lede--that it was 2002-2006, and goes on to make it explicit in the first sentence: "The FBI violated the law in collecting thousands of U.S. telephone records during the Bush administration, The Washington Post reported Monday [emphasis mine]."

      But don't let a silly little thing like fact get in the way of FOX-bashing.

  • Surprised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SirBigSpur ( 1677306 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:34AM (#30819656)
    Is anyone actually surprised by this?
  • 2000+ Felonies? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macemoneta ( 154740 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:39AM (#30819720) Homepage

    Aren't these violations felonies? If so, then why are criminals employed by the FBI instead of in prison? If not, then (aside from the invasion of privacy), what's the problem?

  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:39AM (#30819722) Homepage
    According to TFA, the US DOJ started investigating the FBI over this issue in 2006. Why aren't FBI agents in jail right now? And why didn't the Washington Post ask this question?
  • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:58AM (#30820024) Homepage

    about half of the 4,400 toll records collected in emergency situations or with after-the-fact approvals were done in technical violation of the law.

    'Technical violation of the law' is also known as 'crime.' The degree to which the law has been violated may be relevant for sentencing, but it's irrelevant in determining whether or not a crime has, in fact, taken place.

    In true emergencies, Caproni said, agents always had the legal right to get phone records, and lawyers have now concluded there was no need for the after-the-fact approval process.

    So how many of these were actually true emergencies? And having the legal right to get something doesn't excuse getting it illegally. If the police have probable cause they can get a warrant to search my house. If they decided to skip getting a warrant and search it anyway, the results of that search are inadmissible even though the police could have done it legally. It should be no different in this case. In fact, in this case there's a statute specifically defining the crime, and it does not excuse a criminal act if it could have been done legally but wasn't.

    Bureau officials said agents were working quickly under the stress of trying to thwart the next terrorist attack and were not violating the law deliberately.

    That's not a legally recognized excuse. The intent that matters is the intent to intercept the communication, which was plainly present (this is not a case of accidentally tapping the wrong line or anything like that). Whether they knew what they were doing was illegal or whether they thought what they were doing was justified is irrelevant in this case, per the statute.

    Caproni said the bureau will use the inspector general's findings to determine whether discipline is warranted.

    Discipline? I hope that's just for starters. The ECPA provides for a jail sentence of up to 5 years per violation, and I would like to see prosecutors pursue significant jail sentences for the "senior FBI managers up to the assistant director level" that approved the procedures for emergency requests, particularly for those who did so "for two years after bureau lawyers raised concerns and an FBI official began pressing for changes." They betrayed the public trust and broke the law even after their illegal behavior was pointed out to them. It's utterly inexcusable.

    The federal government should also be made to pay the appropriate statutory civil fine to the parties whose phone records were illegally gathered, which is the greater of actual damages, $100 per day of violation, or $10,000. If $10,000 in statutory damages seems excessive, the government should take a look at the Copyright Act some time. And if 5 years in jail seems excessive, it should take a look at the penalties for growing certain plants in your back yard.

  • by Fujisawa Sensei ( 207127 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @12:02PM (#30820072) Journal

    Where were the T-parties? Where is Fox news? Why are they not protecting our constitutional rights and going after the people who committed these felonies against the our citizens?

    Oh, that's right. The only protest people they think are liberals, who want things like health care, and believe in the rule of law. When a conservative administration breaks the law its for our own good. My bad.

  • ...for the Hope & Change that was promised to me. So far, BO seems a lot like GWB, but with better speaking skills.
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @12:22PM (#30820382)
    We have to sacrifice our freedoms to protect our freedoms. Even though our free society is better than an authoritarian one, authoritarianism is far better at protecting freedom. So, the only way to be free and have rights is to not be free and lose your rights. You dirty hippies get it now?
  • Whenever anyone points out that these laws are to help stop terrorists, they forget that the first abuse often comes with good intents, but slowly decends into the police state nightmare no one wants.
  • Tracing down the communications "networks" of suspected terrorists actually does sound like a useful way of generating intelligence, so the FBI may have a valid rationale behind doing this. However, I fail to see how this constitutes an "emergency", since there is little requirement for timeliness -- these records are not going to disappear if they don't collect them right away, and the analysts are going to take weeks or months to analyze them anyway. In short, I don't see any down side to using approved p
  • by moeinvt ( 851793 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @01:16PM (#30821142)

    U.S. citizens are expected to comply with tens of thousands of BS laws and regulations that come out of Washington DC, and are regularly prosecuted for violating them. By contrast, government employees (from the President on down) violate the 15-20 pages of the U.S. Constitution on a regular basis, and nobody is arrested or prosecuted. Why should WE have to read, understand and obey the massive volume of rules that they spew out every year when THEY refuse to obey a very simple set of rules governing their behavior? I guess it depends on who is breaking the law.

  • If I were caught speeding, could I justify that by telling the officer who pulled me over that I was stressed?

    Now, imagine that instead of speeding, I were instead violating the Constitution of the United States. For a period of several years.

    We have rules and laws to prevent this from happening. But if there are no consequences for the people and agencies who violate our rights, then those rights have no teeth. The people who have done this to us should be prosecuted.

  • I was in a conversation with someone the other day about what it means to be in a civilized society. Where the morality and ethics of a society are important, there is a factor where respect for the law is a top-down characteristic. When a nation of laws implements its laws and punishments in a fair and equitable manner, respect for the law rises. When this doesn't happen, respect for the law decreases. And when the legal system, and especially law enforcement, break the law, you can expect respect for

  • Suggested Readings: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @02:24PM (#30822094) Homepage Journal
    "The narrator inhabits a paranoid dystopia where nothing is as it seems, chaos seems to rule all events, and everyone is deeply suspicious of every one else. In danger of losing his mind, our protagonist starts keeping a diary, and it is this diary which details only a few days in his life that is ultimately found by a future society and given the title Notes from the Neogene. Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is this distant voice from the past, this Notes from the Neogene."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoirs_Found_in_a_Bathtub [wikipedia.org]

    Also probably anything by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky [wikipedia.org], who were originally targetting the Soviet Union. Well, US is SU looking backwards.


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