FBI Seeks To Pay Telecoms For Data

The FBI wants to pay the major telecommunications companies to retain their customers’ Internet and phone call information for at least two years for the agency’s use in counterterrorism investigations and is asking Congress for $5 million a year to defray the cost, according to FBI officials and budget documents.The FBI would not have direct access to the records. It would need to present a subpoena or an administrative warrant, known as a national security letter, to obtain the information that the companies would keep in a database, officials said.”We have never asked for the ability to have direct access to or to ‘data mine’ telephone company databases,” said John Miller, the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs. “The budget request simply seeks to absorb the cost to the service provider of developing an efficient electronic system for them to retain and deliver the information after it is legally requested.”The proposal has raised concerns by civil libertarians who point to telecom companies’ alleged involvement in the government’s domestic surveillance program and to a recent Justice Department inspector general’s report on FBI abuse of national security letters. In one case, a senior FBI official signed the letters without including the required proof that they were linked to FBI counterterrorism or espionage investigations.

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