Apparently, they didn’t need warrants or court orders either:
From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis 720 times. . . . Verizon and AT&T said it was not their role to second-guess the legitimacy of emergency government requests.
Emphasis mine. No, it’s not “their role to second-guess.” However, it is the telecom companies’ legal obligation to simply refuse to provide information without a valid warrant. No warrant, no customer data- and no second-guessing required. See how easy that would be? Too bad that AT&T and Verizon couldn’t get it right.
There are rumors floating around, as a result of former Qwest CEO Ralph Nacchio’s appeal from last week, that the NSA simply bought cooperation from the telcos by offering wiretapping and data-mining contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for giving the government illegal access to customer data. Qwest decided that what the government was asking for was against the law. Apparently Verizon and AT&T had no such qualms and were presumably happy to take the money.
As Glenn Greenwald does such a good job of pointing out, disclosure of customer data WITHOUT a warrant is a felony:
. . . Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that “[e]very telecommunications carrier has a duty to protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of . . . customers.” 18 U.S.C. 2511 makes warrantless eavesdropping a felony; 18 U.S.C. 2702 requires that any “entity providing an electronic communication service to the public shall not knowingly divulge to any person or entity the contents of a communication” without a court order; and 18 U.S.C. 2520 provides for civil damages for any violations.
Sadly, Glenn also notes the obvious problem we face- the law doesn’t matter unless someone is willing to enforce it:
Here, the Government will not prosecute telecoms for breaking the law, because the government itself conspired in that lawbreaking.
Go read the whole thing. I had to read it twice, and I had to step away from the screen several times in between before I could sit down and post this, because Glenn’s article makes me so angry that I’m almost physically sick. The telecoms are trying to make this into a political question issue by painting themselves as innocent victims, caught between the Congress and the Executive branch. That’s great, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t give the phone companies carte blanche to ignore the law, to lie to Congress about previous illegal activities, or to conceal facts from Congressional scrutiny becasue those facts would be inconvenient to an Executive branch which is complicit in their lawbreaking. This is the single most important topic which should face Michael Mukasey in his confirmation hearings, beginning tomorrow: will he prosecute the phone companies or Bush Administration officials, or appoint a special prosecutor for those prosecutions, if there is evidence that the phone companies or the Administration have violated the law?
Whether or not the President (or, let’s be honest, Dick Cheney) ordered them to do it should make no difference. If the President called me on the phone today and ordered me to go and kill Jon Stewart, and the FBI dropped off a gun and some plane tickets to New York, I’d still be guilty of murder if I was dumb enough to actually go and do it.
If the phone companies want to argue about roles, here is a thesis for them: the President has no role in deciding what the law is, for that responsibility belongs to the courts.