Power to seize phone, Net records is a ‘sanctioned fishing expedition,’ critics say

When prosecutors first pushed for the power to seize telephone and Internet records themselves, bypassing the need for a judge to approve a warrant, they argued the power was necessary to help them quickly track down missing children and sexual predators.

But records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show prosecutors have used that significant subpoena power hundreds of times a year in routine investigations related to larceny, check fraud, assault, and other common crimes.

The explosion in the use of these administrative subpoenas, as they are formally known, has alarmed civil libertarians, who point out that, under the law, the targets do not have to be criminal suspects and are generally unaware that law enforcement is tracking their phone logs and online histories.