The Dauphin claims all is kosher.
Millions of phone records reportedly sold to NSA The Bush administration Thursday reacted defensively to news that the secretive National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping, had obtained millions of domestic phone records
Oh, so now they paid for these records? I hope it was more than $1,000 per call, because that is the going rate
1. It violates the Stored Communications Act. The Stored Communications Act, Section 2703(c), provides exactly five exceptions that would permit a phone company to disclose to the government the list of calls to or from a subscriber: (i) a warrant; (ii) a court order; (iii) the customer’s consent; (iv) for telemarketing enforcement; or (v) by “administrative subpoena.” The first four clearly don’t apply. As for administrative subpoenas, where a government agency asks for records without court approval, there is a simple answer – the NSA has no administrative subpoena authority, and it is the NSA that reportedly got the phone records.
2. The penalty for violating the Stored Communications Act is $1000 per individual violation. Section 2707 of the Stored Communications Act gives a private right of action to any telephone customer “aggrieved by any violation.” If the phone company acted with a “knowing or intentional state of mind,” then the customer wins actual harm, attorney’s fees, and “in no case shall a person entitled to recover receive less than the sum of $1,000.”
(The phone companies might say they didn’t “know” they were violating the law. But USA Today reports that Qwest’s lawyers knew about the legal risks, which are bright and clear in the statute book.)
3. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act doesn’t get the telcos off the hook. According to USA Today, the NSA did not go to the FISA court to get a court order. And Qwest is quoted as saying that the Attorney General would not certify that the request was lawful under FISA. So FISA provides no defense for the phone companies, either.
not to mention (from Glenn Greenwald, which you should definitely read if you haven’t already):
…Two additional points worth making: (1) One of the disturbing aspects of the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was that it was seen by many intelligence professionals as a radical departure from the agency’s tradition of not turning its spying capabilities on the American public domestically. The program disclosed yesterday decimates that tradition by many magnitudes. This is a program where the NSA is collecting data on the exclusively domestic communications of Americans, communicating with one another, on U.S. soil — exactly what the NSA was supposed to never do.
(2) The legal and constitutional issues, especially at first glance and without doing research, reading cases, etc., are complicated and, in the first instance, difficult to assess, at least for me. That was also obviously true for Qwest’s lawyers, which is why they requested a court ruling and, when the administration refused, requested an advisory opinion from DoJ.
But not everyone is burdened by these difficulties. Magically, hordes of brilliant pro-Bush legal scholars have been able to determine instantaneously — as in, within hours of the program’s disclosure — that the program is completely legal and constitutional (just like so many of them were able confidently to opine within hours of the disclosure of the warrantless eavesdropping program that it, too, was perfectly legal and constitutional). Having said that, there are some generally pro-Bush bloggers expressing serious skepticism over the legality and/or advisability of this program.
Laws are for suckers is what The Dauphin is saying.