In order to gain access to data on terrorists, the FBI is asking Congress to require telecommunications companies to keep data records for up two years, reports the Washington Post.
The FBI would still need to present a subpoena or an administrative warrant, known as a national security letter, to obtain the information that the companies would keep in a database, officials said.
"We have never asked for the ability to have direct access to or to datamine telephone company databases," said John Miller, the FBI's assistant director for public affairs. "The budget request simply seeks to absorb the cost to the service provider of developing an efficient electronic system for them to retain and deliver the information after it is legally requested."
The request has civil liberty groups up in arms, especially in light of the recent domestic surveillance debacle and a recent Justice Department inspector general's report on FBI abuse of national security letters.
The proposal "is circumventing the law by paying companies to do something the FBI couldn't do itself legally," said Michael German, American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel on national security. "Going around the Fourth Amendment by paying private companies to hoard our phone records is outrageous."
Legislation pending in Congress would require companies to keep the data. What type and for how long would be up to the attorney general. The administration is also pushing for immunity for telecom companies from criminal and civil liability for any role in the surveillance program.
The telecom companies have been providing data at a cost of about $1.8 million a year since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.