CCIA Concerned About Scope, Wisdom, and Legality of Government Phone Surveillance

June 6, 2013

A document leaked to the news media indicates government agencies requested records about every Verizon customer over at least a three- month period using a controversial power sanctified by secret court order. The order demanded that Verizon turn over metadata that includes what phone number was called, what number initiated the call, for how long, and potentially where the phone was located.

Americans and public interest groups are expressing outrage at the broad scope of the order that likely goes beyond any previous government surveillance known to the public. What is still not known is whether the scope of the order included both business and individual customers, whether it included the location of the phone at the time of the call, and whether this one order is merely the tip of an even more massive surveillance iceberg.

While the Computer & Communications Industry Association certainly understands the goal of investigating terrorism, it has long been concerned about any government having the ability to demand such broad access to the electronic records of the customers of companies in our industry. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:

“This far-reaching surveillance of phone customers highlights a dangerous inflection point in our country’s history. While there is much we do not know, what we do know indicates these laws, and their interpretations challenge our nation’s principles and ideals of freedom and liberty.  Whether technically following the letter of the constitutionally suspect laws or not, top officials in national security and law enforcement bureaucracy need to take responsibility and come clean with the American people.  And hopefully they or their successors will provide the leadership necessary to curtail such sweeping intrusions on our privacy and liberty in the future.  The secrecy surrounding the entire process, especially the lack of due process inherent in the gag order process, is incompatible with a well functioning free and open society.

“Last night’s revelation is simply the latest in an apparently never-ending series of stories that show us that the agencies responsible for surveilling Americans cannot be blindly trusted with the keys to the castle. The current laws that govern access to modern telecommunications are woefully out of date and subject to abuse without meaningful boundaries and independent oversight able to protect the fundamental rights of citizens.

“Those legislators trying to fix the problem are constrained in doing so. Senators Wyden and Udall should be applauded for the warnings they’ve been giving about this provision of the PATRIOT Act. As they know, secret laws with secret interpretations are not a foundation for good governance and enduring freedom.  We hope they and others also share our concern that the expansion of surveillance powers over Internet activity is a future course we must avoid.

The following may be attributed to CCIA Public Policy & Regulatory Counsel Ross Schulman:

“Congress must take this moment to institute some control and reign in what is swiftly becoming a surveillance state. They should start by passing the ECPA reform bill already unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. They should also deal with the anti-democratic practice of the administration having its own secret interpretations of laws, and ensure that judicial review provides a meaningful check and balance on zealous enforcement agencies.”

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