Phone records are now an open book

Telephone bills

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The White House got largely what it wanted out of lawmakers before Congress adjouned for its August recess. The president signed an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act yesterday. It lets the government expand on what it's already been doing: eavesdropping on international calls and e-mails without a warrant.

Marketplace's Lisa Napoli takes a closer look now at what else was included — and what was left out of that 11th hour legislation.


Lisa Napoli: Say the government decides it wants a record of all phone calls, e-mails, faxes, and text messages that come in and out of the United States from India for a given week.

Now, it can order phone companies and Internet providers to give up those records — without presenting a court order.

Lisa Graves: The law permits the government to access all communication in which one person is believed to be abroad.

That's Lisa Graves of the National Center for Securities Studies. She says for their time and trouble in helping Uncle Sam, communications companies will get one thing they wanted in return: financial compensation from the government.

The exact dollar amount isn't clear. but what the telecoms wanted — and didn't get — was legal immunity. They've recently been in the crosshairs from civil liberties groups for their cooperation with a growing number of government spy programs.

Marc Rotenberg is with the Electronic Privacy information center:

Marc Rotenberg: They don't want to be exposed in terms of liability if it turns out they were violating federal wiretap laws by helping the government.

The president said when he signed the bill that he hopes the telecoms will eventually get the legal break they want. He's said eavesdropping programs like this one are essential to the fight against terrorism.

The fight for the privacy rights issues won't stop with enactment of this law. It's only on the books for six months, and Congress is expected to take a look at it again after summer vacation.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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