Phone Company Fights FBI Records Demand

Rare act of defiance sets up landmark-yet-secret legal case
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2012 3:38 PM CDT
Phone Company Fights FBI Records Demand
Most phone companies simply hand over customer records.   (Shutterstock)

Every year, the FBI sends phone companies thousands of "national security letters," secret demands for customer data, and companies almost always silently comply with them. But one company is doing something extraordinary: It's fighting the letter in court, arguing that the demand itself, and the gag order accompanying it, are unconstitutional, the Wall Street Journal reports. Which company? That's secret, though the Journal hazards a guess that it may be a San Francisco-based company (Working Assets) that supports liberal causes.

"This is the most important national-security-letter case in years," says one law professor. The Justice Department is arguing that the company can't challenge the constitutionality of the law, and is breaking the law by not handing over the data. It's also claiming "sovereign immunity," the principle that the government can't be sued without its consent—though it's usually only used in cases demanding monetary damages. "This is a puzzling argument," says one professor. "There has to be a way to challenge the constitutionality of the law." (More FBI stories.)

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