FBI violated phone-tapping law: Report

Emails obtained by “The Washington Post” detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. “The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats,” the daily said.

A Justice Department Inspector General’s report due this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, it said.

The records seen by “The Post” do not reveal the identities of the people whose phone call records were gathered, but FBI officials said they thought that nearly all of the requests involved terrorism investigations, the daily said. FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was quoted as saying that the agency technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked non-existent emergencies to collect records. Caproni said FBI Director Robert S Mueller III did not know about the problems until late 2006 or early 2007, after the Inspector General’s probe began.  It was stopped, once the issue came to the notice of Mueller.

The system “exigent circumstances letter” was developed  to tap telephone calls citing emergencies on the terrorism front so that they can get information as soon as possible.

One of the emails “called this new method of gathering phone records ‘imperative to the continuing efforts by the FBI to protect our nation against future attacks’, even as it acknowledged that the phone records of many people not connected to a terrorism investigation were likely to be scooped up,” the paper said.

The paper said a 2003 memo stated that the new method “has the potential of generating an enormous amount of data in short order, much of which may not actually be related to the terrorism activity under investigation.”

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