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FBI says it can seek journalists’ phone records without a warrant: report

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is allowed to seek journalists’ phone records with the approval of two government officials through a secretive surveillance process that does not require a warrant, The Intercept website reported on Thursday, citing a classified document.

The document, which The Intercept published without citing sources, was described as a classified appendix of the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) and was dated Oct. 16, 2013. The related document is here.

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Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the document.

FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in an emailed reply to a Reuters request for comment, “We post a redacted version of the DIOG on our website. I am not in a position to comment or authenticate any other version.” Allen referred to an FBI website regarding the agency’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.

“Because the DIOG governs sensitive operations and investigations, not all of its contents can be released,” Allen wrote.

“As a result I am not able to comment on how, or whether, the DIOG is updated as laws, Guidelines, or technology change. However, the FBI periodically reviews and updates the DIOG as needed,” he said.

Allen said the FBI’s DIOG remained consistent with guidelines from the U.S. attorney general.

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The Intercept is an online publication launched in 2014 by First Look Media, which was created and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The editors are Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, who were all involved in breaking the Edward Snowden story.

The Intercept reported that, according to the document, pursuing a journalist’s call data with a national security letter requires the consent of the FBI’s general counsel and the executive assistant director of its national security branch, in addition to normal chain-of-command approval.

A national security letter is a type of government order for communications data sent to service providers. It is usually issued with a gag order, meaning the target is often unaware that records are being accessed.

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There are several proposals in Congress to broaden the scope of national security letters, or NSLs. Privacy advocates, however, have said the authority is used too often, circumvents judicial oversight and lacks adequate transparency safeguards.

The Intercept reported that an added layer of review by the U.S. Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security is necessary to use an NSL to seek a journalist’s records if they are being sought “to identify confidential news media sources.”

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National security letters have been available as a law enforcement tool since the 1970s. But their frequency and breadth expanded under the USA Patriot Act enacted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The FBI made 48,642 requests for data via NSLs in 2015, according to a Justice Department memo seen by Reuters in May.

Currently, national security letters can only compel sharing of phone billing records, according to a 2008 legal memo written by the U.S. Justice Department. Still, the FBI has used the letters since then to request internet records during national security investigations.

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The U.S. Senate last week fell two votes short of advancing legislation that would broaden the type of records the FBI can compel a company to hand over under an NSL to include email metadata and some browsing history.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Dan Grebler, Toni Reinhold)


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Trump’s lawyers slammed by CNN’s Toobin for ‘parade of lies’ about Biden’s involvement in Ukraine

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On CNN Monday, chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin argued that the White House team's defense in the impeachment trial was disastrously bad.

"I thought Attorney General [Pam] Bondi did an effective job of showing how sleazy the hiring of Hunter Biden was," acknowledged Toobin. However, he added "her discussion, and Eric Herschmann's discussion, of the role of Joe Biden, vice president at the time, was a parade of lies. Just outrageously false in every fact, in every insinuation ... this idea that he engineered the fire firing of [Ukrainian prosecutor] Viktor Shokin to get his son in. Since Joe Biden is the one who is running for president, that seems to be enormously important."

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Republicans claim Democrats leaked John Bolton’s book that was given to the White House — then quickly back down

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In a bizarre twist, Republicans are blaming Democrats for releasing information included in John Bolton's.

Speaking in a line of Republicans, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) explained that it was clear Democrats were part of some kind of conspiracy to turn senators against the speedy trial the White House wanted. With the revelation that Bolton confirmed President Donald Trump was indeed trying to bribe Ukraine, a very few Republican senators are more willing to call him as a witness.

The problem, of course, with Meadows' accusations is that the manuscript was never sent to Democrats. According to the New York Times report, Bolton sent the book to the White House for security checks to ensure nothing he put in the book was classified.

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Ken Starr defends Trump as Bolton revelations roil trial

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Pressure mounted on Republicans on Monday to call former national security advisor John Bolton as a witness at Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial following explosive new revelations about the US president's dealings with Ukraine.

As Clinton impeachment investigator Ken Starr resumed the White House defense of Trump on the Senate floor, at least three Republican senators indicated they would favor hearing testimony from the 71-year-old Bolton.

According to The New York Times, Bolton, in a draft of his upcoming book, says that Trump told him in August that he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine until Kiev opened an investigation into his potential November election rival Joe Biden.

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