Wireless Carriers Failed to Protect Privacy in AP Phone Records Seizure?

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

Verizon Wireless handed over the phone records of Associated Press journalists to the Department of Justice before the subpoena could be challenged.

As part of a sweeping investigation into national security leaks, the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records belonging to AP editors and journalists. Controversy erupted as the public questioned whether the constitutional right to freedom of press was violated.

Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Justice Department’s actions, calling the investigation “the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen” in his 35-year career.

As noted by Huffington Post, the AP checked with service providers to see if any had refused to cooperate. Personal phone records for two journalists were handed over by Verizon Wireless without permission from the reporters, who would have challenged the subpoena in court.

Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis told the New York Times that the company “complies with legal processes for requests for information by law enforcement.”

"This is the phone companies putting the interest of law enforcement before their customers, and that's wrong," said principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union Christopher Soghoian. "None of them tell users. They all suck."

The Justice Department investigation into the AP stems from a May 2012 article they published about the Central Intelligence Agency foiling an al-Qaeda terror plot to destroy an airline using an underwear bomb.

"The FBI doesn't tell you what they're investigating -- you just get a subpoena, so the only way you get to stick up for your good customers is by having a policy of always telling your users," Soghoian said.


A Supreme Court precedent from 1979 made it possible for law enforcement to retrieve records on numbers dialed from a phone without a warrant, unlike wiretapping a call which requires a warrant. But telephone records today provide much more information than they did back then. Metadata in a phone records indicates the phone number, time, call origin, call duration and the carrier.

Sources: Huffington Post, NY Times, Popsci