[JURIST] Law enforcement officials often obtain Americans' phone records without a warrant or subpoena by paying private data brokers, who sometimes get the information through improper or even illegal techniques, AP reports. Federal agencies that hire data brokers include the FBI [official website] and the US Marshals Service [official website], both part of the Justice Department, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement [official website] in the Department of Homeland Security. Privacy groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy website] consider the government's use of data brokers an "end run" around the Fourth Amendment [text and materials], which requires judicial oversight of most searches and seizures. The National Security Agency [official website] has come under fire recently for its warrantless surveillance programs [JURIST news archive], which are being challenged in a number of lawsuits [JURIST report].
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on investigations [official website] has gathered documents showing that some data brokers trick phone companies into releasing records or hack into customer accounts. The subcommittee is holding hearings on data brokers on Wednesday and Thursday [committee materials]. Several data broker executives scheduled to testify are expected to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. Last year, executives told a congressional committee [Washington Post report] that they would take measures to protect Social Security numbers and other sensitive information. AP has more.