Petraeus: if you think the FBI has broad email snooping powers, get a load of their phone-spying

The Petraeus/Broadwell email dragnet, which hasn't yielded evidence of any crime, has brought our attention to the FBI's sweeping powers to surveil email. But as ProPublica's Peter Maas writes, "It's not just email."

In July, Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, cajoled major cellphone carriers into disclosing the number of requests for data that they receive from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies: In 2011, there were more than 1.3 million requests. As ProPublica reported at the time, "Police obtain court orders for basic subscriber information so frequently that some mobile phone companies have established websites — here's one — with forms that police can fill out in minutes. The Obama Administration's Department of Justice has said mobile phone users have 'no reasonable expectation of privacy.'"

There's a particularly cruel irony in all of this: If you contact your cell-phone carrier or Internet service provider or a data broker and ask to be provided with the information on you that they provide to the government and other companies, most of them will refuse or make you jump through Defcon levels of hops, skips, and clicks. Uncle Sam or Experian can easily access data that shows where you have been, whom you have called, what you have written, and what you have bought — but you do not have the same privileges.

Read more: Was Petraeus Borked? (ProPublica)


  1. I don’t think it’s politically motivated.. generating these reports costs Telcos a lot of money.. they will still provide customers with the info, but because it costs money, that’s why they have the hoops.

    1. There are non-cash forms of compensation that can be involved here, even to the point of being a pro for some past quid. Keeping in mind the six-month waiting period for free access to third-party storage of communications without a warrant and the time period during which the FBI agent was making noises about Petraeus, let’s look at another finish line that was recently crossed:

      Even so, it doesn’t have to be politically motivated, it can be motivated by simple power, i.e. “because we can.” The Petraeus case is a true harbinger.

  2. There needs to be some legislation defining exactly what a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is.  Namely, “anything that you don’t expect to be made public”.  Saying that you don’t expect privacy because some third party is transmitting your conversations is insane.

    1. No court is ever going to enable a citizen to bring a course of action because they didn’t expect something to occur. 

  3. That’s strange… after all these years of fighting for our “freedoms”, you’d think we’d have more freedoms.  I wonder what went wrong?

    Shouldn’t we be swimming in “freedoms” by now?

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