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Government lawyers say Americans consented to have phone records seized
Friday's Washington Post reveals the Bush Administration's legal response to relevations that tens of millions of Americans personal phone records have been acquired by the National Security Agency. Excerpts from the Post follow (Full article here).
One government lawyer who has participated in negotiations with telecommunications providers said the Bush administration has argued that a company can turn over its entire database of customer records -- and even the stored content of calls and e-mails -- because customers "have consented to that" when they establish accounts. The fine print of many telephone and Internet service contracts includes catchall provisions, the lawyer said, authorizing the company to disclose such records to protect public safety or national security, or in compliance with a lawful government request.
"It is within their terms of service because you have consented to that," the lawyer said. If the company also consents, "and they do it voluntarily, the U.S. government can accept it."
Verizon's customer agreement, for example, acknowledges the company's "duty under federal law to protect the confidentiality of information about the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, and amount of your use of our service," but it provides for exceptions to "protect the safety of customers, employees or property." Verizon will disclose confidential records, it says, "as required by law, legal process, or exigent circumstances."
Like the other companies named by USA Today, Verizon declined to confirm or deny that it had turned over customer records. "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy," spokesman Peter Thonis said in a statement. But Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Britain's Vodafone Group PLC, flatly denied involvement in the program.