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What can government snoops get by with?

Editor’s Note: The following report is excerpted from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium online newsletter published by the founder of WND. Subscriptions are $99 a year or, for monthly trials, just $9.95 per month for credit card users, and provide instant access for the complete reports.

WASHINGTON – Big Brother has become more emboldened than ever with the recent revelation that the Justice Department had obtained from telephone companies the records of Associated Press and other reporters to investigate an alleged national security leak, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

However, telephone companies cannot be sued for a violation of privacy and the government cannot be sued for not first obtaining a subpoena to obtain the target’s phone records, according to analysts.

A little-known provision in the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – which then-Sen. Barack Obama had opposed – was designed to go after leaks of classified information to the press. The provision also exempts the telephone companies and Internet providers from being sued.

Before the law was written, the Department of Justice went through the procedure to subpoena the reporters, thereby exposing publicly such an effort.

However, by implementing this provision of the FISA, reporters and other targeted companies won’t know that they are even being scrutinized.

The Justice Department still has cases pending against reporters who refuse to give up their sources. They are sought for having leaked classified information to the press.

Now, the Justice Department bypasses all that. Rather than haul a reporter before a court to expose the source, Justice now just goes to the phone companies to obtain the records. In turn, they are able to deflect lawsuits under FISA, making it easier for the telephone companies to cooperate with the federal government.

This initiative is done with the assistance of the National Security Agency, which maintains close ties with the nation’s telephone companies. NSA is estimated to have intercepted more than 20 trillion communications over the past decade since the FISA provision was written in the post-9/11 environment.

As a result, Justice isn’t going to subpoena reporters to identify their confidential sources.

Instead, they will just ask the telephone companies for their records, something which they are more than willing to do, since they are very much tied in with NSA.

The Justice Department is supposed to make all reasonable efforts to obtain the information from reporters before resorting to implementing the FISA provision. However, the growing trend is to go directly to the telephone companies for the information.

And the targets are not limited to just reporters. Telephone companies can be handed subpoenas from the local sheriff, the FBI and the IRS to look at digital texts such as emails and text messages. The target doesn’t even have to be notified.

At the local level, police only need to show how the data they’re seeking is relevant to an investigation in an effort to obtain a subpoena.

Often, it is to identify the location of the phone number and the holder’s location.

In 2011, for example, the Justice Department had gathered mobile phone data by seeking the “pen register” or the “trap and trace” of outgoing phone numbers and who the recipients were. It also included incoming phone numbers.

Verizon and AT&T have responded to at least 1.3 million law enforcement requests for mobile phone locations and text messages.

Internet service providers such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as other webmail providers, provide the location data that tracks users by the computer’s IP address, which is a unique number assigned to each computer.

While a subpoena may be required for the text of an email, that is not the case for the IP addresses. The companies keep a record of the email texts for at least a year.

In 2012, Google received 16,407 requests for data, including emails sent through its Gmail service.

During the same period, Microsoft with its Outlook email service had received 11,073 requests for data. Yahoo didn’t respond to a request for the number of inquiries it had received.

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