Government Access to Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities [November 9, 2011] [open pdf - 272KB]
"Public interest in the means by which the government may collect telephone call records has been raised by revelations in recent years regarding alleged intelligence activity by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to a 'USA Today' article from May 11, 2006, the NSA allegedly sought and obtained records of telephone numbers called and received from millions of telephones within the United States from three telephone service providers; a fourth reportedly refused to provide such records. Additionally, a series of reports issued by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (DOJ OIG), most recently in January of 2010, indicate that, between 2002 and 2006, consumer records held by telephone companies had been provided to the FBI through the use of 'exigent letters' and other informal methods that fell outside of the national security letter (NSL) process embodied in statute and internal FBI policies. […] Required disclosure of customer records to the government under certain circumstances is addressed under 18 U.S.C. Section 2703, including, among others, disclosure pursuant to a warrant or grand jury or trial subpoena. 18 U.S.C. Section 2709 is a national security letter provision, under which a wire or electronic service provider may be compelled to provide subscriber information and toll billing records information, or electronic communication transactional records in its custody or possession. Finally, Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, protects customer proprietary network information, and violations of pertinent provisions of law or regulation may expose service providers to criminal sanctions, civil penalties, and forfeiture provisions."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33424