Two “public interest” attorneys have decided to take advantage of USA Today’s national security leak and sue Verizon for turning over phone records to the NSA.
The furor over the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records intensified Friday, with one telecommunications giant slapped with a $5 billion damage suit for allegedly violating privacy laws and the former head of another firm saying through a lawyer that his company refused to participate because he thought the program was illegal.
There is one issue with this lawsuit. It is perfectly legal to access people’s phone records. John at Power Line identifies the law that explains the legality of the NSA program:
§ 2709. Counterintelligence access to telephone toll and transactional records
(a) Duty to provide.–A wire or electronic communication service provider shall comply with a request for subscriber information and toll billing records information, or electronic communication transactional records in its custody or possession made by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under subsection (b) of this section.
Not only is it legal for the NSA to request the phone records and for the phone companies to comply, but Qwest is breaking the law by refusing to provide the NSA the phone records it requested.
John also points out that not only can the NSA request the records and the phone companies provide them, but the phone company itself can give those phone records to anyone it wants, as stated in Title 18, Chapter 121, Section 2702(c)(6) of the US Code:
Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t already know this, but I was astonished to learn that there is no expectation of privacy in telephone records at all. Section 2702(c) sets out the circumstances in which a telecom provider can disclose phone records, not including the contents of communications. So this would cover the call information at issue in this program. 2702(c)(6) says that such phone records may be freely disclosed, at the company’s discretion:
(6) to any person other than a governmental entity.
That’s right. These supposedly top-secret telephone records can be given or, more likely, sold to any company or private citizen. So if I had enough money, I could buy the phone records of every person in the U.S., and donate them to the NSA.
These attorneys don’t have a case.
Hat tip: The New Editor