Government Access to Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities [February 2, 2009] [open pdf - 228KB]
"Media disclosures regarding an alleged National Security Agency (NSA) program designed to collect and analyze information on telephone calling patterns within the United States have raised interest in the authorities under which the government may collect such information. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by civil liberties groups against federal defendants and several telecommunications companies on behalf of their customers and subscribers, for violations of the plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights. On September 19, 2008, while these cases were still being litigated, U.S. Attorney General Mukasey moved to dismiss the causes of action against the telecommunications defendants, pursuant to a retroactive immunity provision enacted as part of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The disposition of that motion to dismiss is still pending. The Supreme Court has held that there is no Fourth Amendment protection of telephone calling records held in the hands of third party providers, where the content of any call is not intercepted. However, this report summarizes existing statutory authorities regarding access by the government, for either foreign intelligence or law enforcement purposes, to information related to telephone calling patterns or practices. Where pertinent, it also discusses statutory prohibitions against accessing or disclosing such information, along with relevant exceptions to those prohibitions."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33424