Friday, May 19, 2006

An AT&T attorney indicated in federal court on Wednesday that the Bush administration may have provided legal authorization for the telecommunications company to open its network to the National Security Agency.

Federal law may "authorize and in some cases require telecommunications companies to furnish information" to the executive branch, said Bradford Berenson, who was associate White House counsel when President Bush authorized the NSA surveillance program in late 2001 and is now a partner at the Sidley Austin law firm in Washington, D.C.

AT&T may be referring to an obscure section of federal law, 18 U.S.C. 2511, which permits a telecommunications company to provide "information" and "facilities" to the federal government as long as the attorney general authorizes it. The authorization must come in the form of "certification in writing by...the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law."

"If the certification exists, AT&T is in pretty good shape," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and co-author of a book on information privacy law.

May 17th, CRS Report: Government Access to Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities (no mention of 18 U.S.C. 2511)


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