House bill requires court order for phone record seizures

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require federal agencies to obtain a court order before seizing telephone records.

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The bill is a reaction to the Justice Department's seizure of two months' worth of phone records of Associated Press journalists as part of an investigation into the leak of national security information.

Under current law, investigators need a warrant from a judge to wiretap a phone line, but they can obtain call records from a phone company with only a subpoena. 

The records often include information such as the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls, call duration and subscriber information.

H.R. 2014, the Telephone Records Protection Act, was introduced Thursday by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.).

The bill would require the government to state “specific and articulable facts” that convince a judge that the information would be “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation."

“Americans of all political stripes were shocked to find out that the Department of Justice had been accessing telephone records of reporters at the Associated Press,” Polis said in a statement. 

“The Department of Justice claims that they operated within the confines of the law, which makes it abundantly clear that we need to provide a higher level of protection against government intrusion into an individual’s private records."

Amash said the Justice Department's seizure of AP call records raises "serious First and Fourth Amendment concerns."

"Regardless of whether DOJ violates the legitimate privacy expectations of reporters or ordinary Americans, we deserve to know that the federal government can’t seize our records without judicial review,” he said.