The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

January 14, 2014

Phone firms balk at proposed spy data shift

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Telephone companies are quietly balking at the idea of changing how they collect and store Americans' phone records to help the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. They're worried about their exposure to lawsuits and the price tag if the U.S. government asks them to hold information about customers for longer than they already do.

    President Barack Obama is expected to announce Friday what changes he is willing to make to satisfy privacy, legal and civil liberties concerns over the NSA's surveillance practices. One of the most important questions is whether the government will continue to collect millions of Americans' phone records every day so that the government can identify anyone it believes might be communicating with known terrorists.

    The president's hand-picked review committee has recommended ending the phone records program as it exists. It suggested shifting the storage of the phone records from the NSA to phone companies or an unspecified third party, and it recommended new legal requirements before the government could search anyone's phone records.

    The phone companies don't want the job. Executives and their lawyers have complained about the plan in confidential meetings with administration officials and key congressional intelligence and other committees, according to interviews by The Associated Press. Two phone executives familiar with the discussions said the cellular industry told the government that it prefers the NSA keep control over the surveillance program and would only accept changes if they were legally required. The executives spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the private discussions. But there have been public complaints, too.

    "Our members would oppose the imposition of data retention obligations that would require them to maintain customer data for longer than necessary," said Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, the trade group for the cellular phone industry.

    Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies was expected to discuss the dilemma over the phone records program Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The committee will play an important role in any new legislation on the issue. Executives and industry lawyers said phone companies would reluctantly agree to become the stewards of the phone records only if current laws were changed relieving them of legal responsibilities and paying their costs. The industry is also wary of NSA insistence that the records would need to be standardized and probably held for longer periods than most firms now keep them.

    Liability is a key concern for phone companies, which could be sued if hackers or others were able to gain unauthorized access to the records. Under the Patriot Act, which governs the NSA's phone collection program, the phone companies are free of legal responsibility for disclosing customer records to the government in counterterrorism investigations. Industry lawyers say similar protections could be broadened to cover phone companies holding customer data for the NSA, but it's unclear whether Congress would pass them.

    A former top NSA lawyer and Bush administration national security official who has represented phone firms, Stewart Baker, said Congress only grudgingly granted legal protections to the phone companies in the immediate years after the 9/11 attacks.

    "The phone companies were seared by their experience in Congress and can't be enthusiastic about a return engagement," Baker said.

    Even with broader legal protections, the companies would expect to cope with a surge in demands for business records from local prosecutors, private lawyers, insurance firms and others. Companies already retain some customer records, but the duration of their storage and the kinds of records they keep vary. While T-Mobile keeps records for seven to 10 years, according to a recent Senate Commerce Committee study, other major firms — including Verizon, US Cellular and Sprint — keep them less than two years.

    The government keeps Americans' phone records for at least five years before destroying them. Obama's review committee said phone companies could hold the same data for two years before destroying them. NSA officials have said they could compromise no lower than three years but want all the data to be standardized.

    "The data has to be provided or kept in a way that allows it to be integrated" by the NSA, said the agency's general counsel, Rajesh De, during a November hearing of the semi-independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, another task force examining the surveillance program.

    Currently, phone companies differ in what they keep on file. For example, according to Justice Department records, Verizon maintains calling-detail records over a rolling year, disposing of them once a year passes. Sprint and Nextel keep them 18 to 24 months, while T-Mobile and AT&T divide the records into pre-paid and post-paid categories, with different durations.

    Standardizing such a variety of reporting and storage requirements and holding so much more data would cause phone companies to expand their collection infrastructure and hire more lawyers and technical staff to respond to the NSA's needs.

    "It would be enormously costly and burdensome to set up and implement," said Michael Sussmann, a Washington attorney who specializes in technology and national security issues. "However you change the system, they would have to handle a greater set of data than they collected before. And more people— of all sorts— will come looking for it."

    The cost could be high. Last week, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said it would cost at least $60 million to shift the records for the NSA program to phone providers. Feinstein opposes such a shift.

    Keeping the records at phone companies so they could be readily searched by the government won't satisfy privacy advocates, either.

    "The government would just be outsourcing the data collection to the companies," said David Sobel, a lawyer for the Electronic Freedom Foundation who met last week with administration officials on the issue. "From a privacy perspective, the result will be the same."

    Many of the 46 recommendations urged by the president's review group could be carried out by Obama himself, said Benjamin Powell, former general counsel to the Director of National Intelligence.

    But some of the report's key points, including amending the Patriot Act to expand the role of phone companies, could not go forward without congressional action, Powell said.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Affirmative action ruling challenges colleges seeking diversity

    The U.S. Supreme Court's support of Michigan's ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions may spur colleges to find new ways to achieve diversity without using racial preferences.

    April 24, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Today

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

    April 24, 2014

  • Clemency after 10 years? WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department will begin considering clemency applications from nonviolent federal inmates who have behaved in prison, have no significant criminal history and have already served more than 10 years behind bars, according to a

    April 24, 2014

  • E-cigs FDA proposes first regulations WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. While the proposal

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Soldier convicted in WikiLeaks case gets new name

    An Army private convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks won an initial victory Wednesday to living as a woman when a Kansas judge granted a petition to change her name to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.

    The decision clears the way for official changes to Manning's military records, but does not compel the military to treat the soldier previously known as Bradley Edward Manning as a woman.

    April 23, 2014

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    To help veterans leaving the military as it downsizes, the government on Wednesday started a one-stop job-shopping website for them to create resumes, connect with employers and become part of a database for companies to mine.

    April 23, 2014

  • 10 things to know for today

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

    April 23, 2014

  • Gacy Exhumation Cold Case [Duplicate] Gacy case helps solve unrelated death CHICAGO (AP) -- Four decades after John Wayne Gacy lured more than 30 young men and boys to his Chicago-area home and strangled them, his case has helped authorities solve another killing -- one he didn't commit. Investigators have identified the rem

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

AP Video
Facebook