Legal Issues

by Carlo Longino




Verizon Says It Has A First Amendment Right To Illegally Give Your Call Records To The Government

from the that's-an-interesting-way-to-look-at-things dept

The nation's biggest telcos are working hard to make the lawsuits against them for passing customer call records and other info to the government as part of its program of warrantless wiretaps disappear. AT&T's argument that it was just following government orders didn't wash with a judge, and now Verizon is claiming that its passing of information to the government is protected by the First Amendment. Yes, you read that correctly: it says the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is unconstitutional, and the information it passed to the government -- in apparent violation of it, and to comply with the sort of warrantless surveillance the ECPA was designed to prevent -- is constitutionally protected free speech. This seems tenuous at best, but it fits with Verizon's MO. The company always tries to whitewash its customer data leaks by filing lawsuits and trying to shift the blame onto pretexters and information brokers, and making the problem appear to be solely these people's activities, rather than its own inability to protect customer data. Likewise in this case, it contends that it's done nothing wrong, and that the ECPA makes the mistake of trying to prevent free speech, rather than putting restrictions on the government's ability to ask for the information. Of course, those restrictions exist (in the form of having to get a warrant), but didn't really work so well here. Verizon's complicity seems pretty obvious and its free-speech claims look like little more than a hail-mary attempt to shirk liability for disclosing the customer information. That may not be necessary, though, if the Bush administration's attempts to get Congress to pass a law giving the telcos immunity from these sorts of lawsuits are successful.

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  1. identicon
    Ben Franklin was right, 8 May 2007 @ 10:16am

    Sacrafice freedom for security and you have neithe

    Rick, I understand your "I'm not up to anything, so what's the harm" reasoning, but there's a huge danger there you seem to ignore. It's not the tapping of that information that's so egregeous, it's the fact that it was done with no oversight that is concerning.

    If you allow unwarranted tapping of private communications then you are sanctioning activities that allow for a political incident that could make Watergate look like a tea party. Politicians, especially those who have influence over or favor within the telcos, could track their rivals activities under the guise of 'national security'. What they do with that information is entirely up to them.

    We are, I suspect, both proud citizens of the United States of America. But is that the kind of political system you could be proud of? Having seen what happens with an imperial government, our founding fathers guaranteed a balance of power by establishing three equal branches of government. The Bush administration has long considered the judicial branch of the government it's archrival, either circumventing it or attacking it, as they did with the judicial firings.

    The fact is, the judicial branch was never intended to reflect the current elected officials' policy, but to provide a continuity across administrations, hence the Supreme Court is not elected, but appointed for life (or retirement, whichever comes first). Note: Articles 1-3 of the Constitution are the cornerstone of this triumvirate.

    We need to re-establish the balance the founding fathers fought so hard to establish. We complain when it doesn't "go our way", but remember the results of past efforts to centralize power, Ceasar, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot.

    The abuse of this power is potentially more damaging that that of the terrorist. As is often the case, the biggest threat can come from within.

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