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Bipartisan bill would force government to get a court order before seizing phone records

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Yesterday, we heard that the Obama administration was pushing for the resurrection of a proposed 2009 media shield law, but a separate bipartisan coalition is also introducing a bill that would make it harder for the government to obtain citizens’ phone records. It’s called The Telephone Records Protection Act, and it would stop the government from your phone records without a court order — whether you’re a journalist or not.

"Americans' phone records deserve greater protection from the government than a mere subpoena."

The bill was introduced by representatives Justin Amash (R-MI), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). In a written statement, Lofgren stated that "Americans’ phone records deserve greater protection from the government than a mere subpoena," while Mulvaney voiced his surprise at the government’s ability to subpoena phone records without a court order, saying "if that is indeed the law, as the Department of Justice insists that it is, then the law needs to change." The bill would strike a part of the existing code that currently allows the government to demand phone records containing numbers dialed, call durations, and location data without a warrant. These kinds of records can often provide as much information as the contents of the conversations themselves, and the new bill would remove them from the types of basic subscriber information the government can obtain without a court order.

Attorney General Eric Holder has faced Congressional hearings this week after the AP revealed on Monday that two months’ worth of records for 20 telephone lines used by its staff were seized by the Justice Department without its knowledge. The seizure is tied to a DoJ investigation into the source of a leak relating to a foiled 2012 terrorist attack in Yemen.