[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] has said the government does not need court approval to obtain domestic telephone records because they are not protected by the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment [text] according to the Supreme Court's 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland [opinion text]. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Gonzales said that under Smith v. Maryland there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in such records. In the 1979 case, the court held that the government did not need to secure a search warrant before installing a device at a phone company's central office to collect numbers dialed by a customer. Because the customer was transmitting the numbers to the phone company, the court reasoned, he could not have considered the information private, and therefore it was not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Despite his comments on the legality of the government obtaining phone records without a warrant, Gonzales did not confirm reports [USA Today report] that the National Security Agency asked phone companies to turn over records [JURIST report] containing the numbers dialed by millions of Americans. Also Tuesday, Gonzales appeared to back off an earlier statement that journalists could be prosecuted for reporting leaked information [JURIST report]. The Washington Post has more.