WASHINGTON -- Federal and local police across the country -- as well as some of the nation's best-known companies -- have been gathering Americans' phone records from private data brokers, without subpoenas or warrants.
The brokers, many of whom market aggressively across the Internet, have broken into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information, and sometimes acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
Those using data brokers include agencies of the Homeland Security and Justice departments, including the FBI and US Marshal's Service, and police departments in California, Florida, Georgia, and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services.
``We are requesting any and all information you have regarding the above cellphone account and the account holder . . . including account activity and the account holder's address," Ana Bueno, a police investigator in Redwood City, Calif., wrote in October to PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas.
An agent in Denver for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Anna Wells, sent a similar request on March 31 on Homeland Security stationery: ``I am looking for all available subscriber information for the following phone number," Wells wrote to a corporate alias used by PDJ.
``There's a good chance there are some laws being broken, but it's not really clear precisely which laws, said Representative Ed Whitfield, Republican of Kentucky. Documents gathered by his committee show data brokers use trickery, impersonation, and technology to gather phone records. ``They can basically obtain any information about anybody on any subject," Whitfield said.
``This is pernicious, an end run around the Fourth Amendment," said Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.