Request Submitted To: Attorney General & District Attorney Offices

Category: Surveillance

Year Filed: 2013


In 2008, the provisions of G.L. c. 271, § 17B were amended to expand substantially the power of Massachusetts prosecutors to obtain information about private communications. Enacted as part of legislation addressed to preventing sexual abuse of children, St. 2008, § 205, and described by the attorney general as a tool to track online predators, the amendment of § 17B nevertheless went much further. As amended, the law allows the attorney general or a district attorney to issue an administrative subpoena for the records of certain communications service providers concerning private communications if the prosecutor has “reasonable grounds to believe that [such records] are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.” The recipient of such a subpoena is required to deliver the records to the attorney general or the district attorney within 14 days. Although the statute expressly prohibits the disclosure of the content of electronic communication, the records, which may be obtained under the statute, are capable of revealing significant amounts of information about the activities and communications of Massachusetts residents.

The purpose of this request is to understand how Administrative Subpoenas have been used across the Commonwealth.