18 April 2002

In the Name of Homeland Security, Telecom Firms Are Deluged With Subpoenas

Operating under new powers to combat terrorism, law enforcement agencies are making unprecedented demands on the telecommunications industry to provide information on subscribers, company attorneys say. These companies and Internet service providers face an escalating barrage of subpoenas for subscriber lists, personal credit reports, financial information, routing patterns that reveal individual computer use, even customer photographs.

Behind the rising pressure for the fullest use of new technology and surveillance is homeland security. As police and intelligence agencies seek to deter future terrorist threats, the government is testing the limits of the expanded authority Congress provided when it passed the Patriot Act with broad bipartisan support in October.

"The amount of subpoenas that carriers receive today is roughly doubling every month -- we're talking about hundreds of thousands of subpoenas for customer records -- stuff that used to require a judge's approval," said Albert Gidari, a Seattle-based expert in privacy and security law who represents numerous technology companies.

Hundreds of thousands of subpeanos per month! Is there really that many Americans suspected of carrying out "terrorist" activities? And what about the financial costs incurred for the firms to research this stuff ...

Altschul said carriers are struggling "as good citizens" to comply with complex and comprehensive surveillance demands that may sometimes "require adding three shifts around the clock." The subpoenas are beginning to impose a financial burden on companies, Altschul said.

Gidari agreed, saying that companies "should be compensated for reasonable costs" and immunized from lawsuits claiming privacy rights were violated, and that new federal regulations should be drafted to spell out the rights and obligations of service providers.

Here is the 4th amendment to the U.S. constitution, in case you don't have your copy readily accessible ...

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I suppose your stance on this issue depends upon your definition of unreasonable. It seems to me that casting a net over hundreds of thousands of Americans and raping thier privacy qualifies as unreasonable, at least in the way I read the 4th amendment ...


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