Champion Of The People: Verizon Complains Exigent Circumstances Order Inadequate For Info Requested; Hands Over Info Anyway
from the rolling-over-to-push-back dept
Given how often major telcos and wireless service providers have willingly provided intelligence and law enforcement agencies with way more than they’ve asked for, the following shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
The back story is this: In July 2008, an FBI agent had his gun and cellphone stolen from his “official” vehicle. The search for the missing items involved Verizon. In an application for a court order authorizing the release of cell site location info, it’s noted that the service provider performed the most futile of gestures on behalf of itself. (Link to PDF.)
As part of its ongoing investigation, and in a further attempt to locate THE LOADED SERVICE WEAPON, shortly after 4:00 a.m. on Friday, July 24, 2008, the FBI requested on an emergency basis that the Carrier disclose the SUBJECT TOWER/SECTOR and MSC RECORDS generate between Thursday, July 24 2008 at 2:00 p.m. and Friday, July 25, 2008 at 4:00 a.m. The FBI did so on the theory that THE LOADED SERVICE WEAPON might well be in the same location as SUBJECT WIRELESS TELEPHONE with which it had been reported stolen on Nostrand Avenue.
Along with this request, the FBI submitted a written “Law Enforcement Exigent Circumstances Consent Form” filled out by Agent Julian, to whom the SUBJECT WIRELESS TELEPHONE belonged, authorizing the Carrier, among other things, to disclose the SUBJECT AND MSC RECORDS generated between Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 2:00 p.m. and Friday, July 25, 2008 at 4:00 a.m.
Although the Carrier agreed to, and did, provide the requested SUBJECT AND MSC RECORDS to the FBI on an emergency basis in light of the exigent circumstances, the Carrier informed the FBI that the “Law Enforcement Exigent Circumstances Consent Form” submitted by Agent Julian provided insufficient authority to release the requested information, and directed the FBI to seek a subsequent court order authorizing the release of the information.
It’s something of an anomaly to see a major carrier stand up to the government, but Verizon certainly chooses its battles very weirdly. To begin with, the phone in question belonged to the person making the request. (More likely belonged to the FBI but was issued to Agent Julian.) That it would attempt to deny a subscriber access to his own records is bizarre, especially considering its open sharing of data on millions of people with the NSA and countless law enforcement agencies — all of whom use the Third Party Doctrine as an all-access pass to as much info as possible.
What makes this utterly ridiculous is the fact that Verizon handed over the information before complaining about the exigent circumstances order. As for why it asked that an official court order be acquired, one can only assume that news of the immunity granted by the 2008 FISA Amendments Act (enacted roughly two weeks earlier) hadn’t reached these particular employees yet. In the unlikely event that Agent Julian brought a lawsuit against Verizon for revealing his cell site info to Agent Julian on the basis of an inadequate exigent circumstances request, the company would have been insulated.
And so, the court did order, with a straight face, that Verizon hand over the records it had already handed over, even though the request noted that these records had only allowed the FBI to recover the gun (and also noted that the FBI already had the info it was seeking). I’s dotted and asses covered, everyone involved returned to the investigation already in progress, except for Verizon, which presumably filed the new paperwork demanding the information it had already turned over the FBI, with the old paperwork it had complied with, even though it belatedly felt that it probably shouldn’t have.
The ultimate irony here is that Verizon will work harder to keep someone from accessing their own records than it will to prevent the government from accessing metadata from all of its subscribers.