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FBI Violated Law in Obtaining Phone Records of Journalists and Others

January 26, 2010

FBI Violated Law in Obtaining Phone Records of Journalists and Others
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

FBI agents relied on everything from requests written on post-it notes to chummy relationships with phone company workers to illegally access phone records from 2003-2006, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general. An investigation of FBI actions revealed that the agency bypassed requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and ignored its own rules to obtain the phone records of at least 3,500 numbers.

Instead of filing proper requests to gain access to the phone records, FBI agents sought information from three telephone companies using emails, sticky notes, and telephone calls.
The FBI also developed cozy relationships with key telecommunications employees, treating them as “team” members and giving them FBI email accounts, all in an effort to gain records as quickly as possible. One agency official likened the ease with which the FBI gained phone records to “having an ATM in your living room.”
The inspector general’s report also revealed that the FBI sought to obtain toll phone call information from three journalists—Washington Post reporter Ellen Nakashima and New York Times reporters Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner—to find out the source of a leak.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Post-It Notes Not Proper Way to Request Phone Records, FBI Told (by Ryan J. Reilly, Main Justice)
Inspector General Cites ‘Egregious Breakdown’ in FBI Oversight (by Carrie Johnson, Washington Post)
A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Use of Exigent Letters and Other Informal Requests for Telephone Records (Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice) (pdf)
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