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Democracy & Technology Blog Can NSA Force Telecom Companies To Collect More Data?

Recent reports highlight that the telephone meta-data collection efforts of the National Security Agency are being undermined by the proliferation of flat-rate, unlimited voice calling plans. The agency is collecting data for less than a third of domestic voice traffic, according to one estimate.
It’s been clear for the past couple months that officials want to fix this, and President Obama’s plan for leaving meta-data in the hands of telecom companies–for NSA to access with a court order–might provide a back door opportunity to expand collection to include all calling data. There was a potential new twist last week, when Reuters seemed to imply that carriers could be forced to collect data for all voice traffic pursuant to a reinterpretation of the current rule.

While the Federal Communications Commission requires phone companies to retain for 18 months records on “toll” or long-distance calls, the rule’s application is vague (emphasis added) for subscribers of unlimited phone plans because they do not get billed for individual calls.

The current FCC rule (47 C.F.R. � 42.6) requires carriers to retain billing information for “toll telephone service,” but the FCC doesn’t define this familiar term. There is a statutory definition, but you have to go to the Internal Revenue Code to find it. According to 26 U.S.C. � 4252(b),

the term “toll telephone service” means–
(1) a telephonic quality communication for which
(A) there is a toll charge which varies in amount with the distance and elapsed transmission time of each individual communication…
Continue reading at Technology Liberation Front

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.