Tuesday :: Oct 16, 2007

Verizon Spills The Beans

by Steve

Verizon has revealed to several Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee that it has given the Bush Administration information on the telephone and internet usage of hundreds of Americans since 2005 without any court orders or subpoenas, simply from national security letters (NSL) issued by the FBI for allegedly criminal investigations. The bureau has already been tagged by the DOJ inspector general for improperly using the national security letter process to gain information on thousands of Americans without probable cause, and Verizon’s admission to the House that it has turned over such information on hundreds of Americans without court orders makes it imperative that Congress not water down FISA any further until the Bush Administration comes clean with what it has been doing since 2001 in gathering information on American citizens.

During the time that Verizon gave this information on 720 Americans to the Bush Administration based solely on NSLs, they also complied with existing laws requiring subpoenas and court orders on 94,000 other cases with no problem. So what was so urgent about these 720 cases that Verizon felt an NSL was sufficient, given the relatively few terror prosecutions that the Bush Administration has undertaken? If you accept the relatively charitable explanation that these 720 cases were all counter-terrorism cases, then how plausible is it to assert that the FISA court could not deal timely with 720 cases since 2005, when the record shows that the FISA court has in fact been quick-responding?

Interestingly enough, at a time when the administration wants Congress to give the telecoms blanket immunity against class action lawsuits stemming from illegal disclosures to the government, Verizon asserts it already has sufficient legal authority to reveal such information to the government without a court order. This is a specious claim, unless the Bush Administration has somehow convinced Verizon’s chief counsel that the national security letter process is a good as a court order, a dubious claim at best. But if Verizon is so certain that it already is on solid legal ground to turn over customer records absent probable cause and court authorization, then why should Congress grant blanket immunity to any telecom? Let’s see how good Verizon’s assertion holds up in court. Clearly, the Bush Administration wants Congress to grant the blanket immunity now because it is convinced that it would lose in court if their NSL’s were challenged.

Congress should not grant blanket immunity to the telecoms, plain and simple. If a major telecom is so convinced that they already have sufficient legal cover to do this, and that it is the government’s responsibility and not theirs to prove that the NSL process didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, then Congress should not cut the legs off the judiciary with a regrettable blanket immunity. Let the courts decide if the Bush Administration overstepped here, without gumming up the works here with a blanket immunity that Verizon asserts isn’t needed.

Steve :: 7:48 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!