FBI Used “Startling” Methods To Get Telephone Records


FBI agents for years sought sensitive records from telephone companies through e-mails, sticky notes, sneak peeks, and other “startling” methods that violated electronic privacy law and federal policy, said a Justice Department inspector general report quoted by the Washington Post. The study describes how the FBI between 2002 and 2006 sent more than 700 demands for telephone toll information by citing often nonexistent emergencies and using sometimes misleading language.

The practice of sending faulty “exigent” letters to three telecommunications providers became so commonplace that one FBI agent described it to investigators as “like having an ATM in your living room.” Information on more than 3,500 phone numbers may have been gathered improperly, but investigators said they could not glean a full understanding because of sketchy record-keeping by the FBI. FBI Director Robert Mueller told a congressional hearing that the bureau had stopped using emergency letters in 2006 after he and the inspector general became aware of problems.

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