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Virginia Police Have Been Secretively Stockpiling Private Phone Records
Wired today reported that the Police of five cities in the United States of America have been collecting phone records of private individuals since 2012 and stockpiling them, for ‘enhancement of analysis and law enforcement’. The investigative report has been filed by ‘The Center for Investigative Reporting”, an independent, nonprofit newsroom based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
As per the Wired report, five cities from southeast Virginia are participating in the program which is called ‘Hampton Roads Telephone Analysis Sharing Network’ (HRTASN). The database, which affects unknown numbers of private citizens and contains phone records that at least five police agencies in southeast Virginia have been collecting since 2012 and sharing with one another with little oversight or questioning.
The cities which are participating in the HRTASN are Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Suffolk. Wired report says that some of the data appears to have been obtained by police from telecoms using only a subpoena, rather than a court order or probable-cause warrant as is required under the federal law. All other information in the telephone calls database comes from mobile phones seized from any suspect during an arrest.
All the five cities participating in the program, have apparently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish such a database, details of which have never been made public. Wired stated that the entire campaign was being spearheaded by the Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, which it says is responsible for a “telephone analysis room” in the city of Hampton. The database of the calls records is also maintained in the city of Hampton.
Wire also states that the illegal, rather unusual and secretive database contains telecom customer subscriber information, records about phone calls made and and received by such individuals. The database is supposedly so elaborate that it contains time of phone calls made and the duration for which the calls lasted. It is also said to contain the the contents of mobile devices seized during raids and arrests.
Once the information is collected, it is collated and shared among the five participating police entities to enhance analysis and law enforcement intelligence.
Legality of the database
Under the current US law no law enforcement agency can maintain such a database. The US law requires a special warrant signed and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Further there is a time limit for such kind of data to be saved. Out of this data, certain ‘metadata’ is obtained, which, also has a time period which has to be adhered to by the law enforcement agencies. Perhaps this is reason why, at least one law enforcement agency has declined to participate in the program due to legal concerns.
Since the Snowden leaks, the White House has responded with promises to curtail the indiscriminate gathering of bulk records and to require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give specific approval to specific requests from law enforcement agencies. However the above revelation by The Center for Investigative Reporting proves that all the claims made by White House are either false or are being actively disobeyed by the law enforcement agencies.
Intelligence officials have at times argued that bulk records about individual communications didn’t threaten privacy when the actual contents of what was said weren’t included. But former NSA head Michael Hayden conceded during an April debate that metadata is revealing enough about one’s lifestyle and identity to target terrorism suspects abroad for attack.
While the Wired goes on to take reactions form individual police entities involved in this database racket, it is noticeable that this type of snooping is going on elsewhere in USA without the knowledge of the citizens.
This ‘Snowdenesque’ revelations are going to have a deep impact in the general citizens of United States.
You can read the full Wired article here and decide as to how far the law can go to enforce its primary goal, keeping law and order.