ACLU Skeptical of FBI Plans for Records Warehouse

July 24, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its concern over a budget request made by the FBI. As first reported on, the request would allow the FBI to pay private companies (largely thought to be telecommunications companies) to retain and grant the bureau access to their clients’ telephone and internet transaction records for two years. The ACLU has serious Fourth Amendment concerns with the proposal as the FBI is essentially asking private companies to hold onto records for the bureau to datamine and use for evidence.

“Americans’ privacy rights cannot be sold to the highest bidder,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office “The bureau cannot order a private company to create this unprecedented database simply because it cannot legally do so itself. The FBI is openly thumbing its nose at the law and our privacy rights. It would essentially create warehouses full of Americans’ private records that would be at the disposal of the government for wholesale abuse.”

During their involvement in the NSA’s program, the telecom companies provided customer call data on millions of Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Now, with the $5 million the FBI is requesting for this program, they will simply be holding the information until it is requested. The ACLU noted that the government’s previous attempts at mass data collection like TIA TIPS and CAPPS II, have failed miserably because the public fundamentally rejects the uncontrolled collection of innocent people’s private data.

The ACLU noted that this budget request comes as the administration is attempting to immunize telecom companies from both criminal prosecution and civil liability for their role in the NSA program. The immunity provision is buried within the administration’s proposed legislation to “modernize” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Giving retroactive immunity to an entire industry, in the absence of a full and thorough airing of the facts, is unprecedented.

“It’s disconcerting that the FBI would attempt to circumvent the law in this way,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel. “Going around the Fourth Amendment by paying private companies to hoard our phone records is outrageous. Certainly the stockpiling of innocent Americans’ records “just in case” would qualify as an unreasonable search and seizure. Congress should not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. It must not allow this proposal to go forward.”

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