A 15-Month Fight for Subscriber Information

The WSJ today presents a Whodunnit behind an NSL submitted to a cell company in spring 2011.

Early last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a secret letter to a phone company demanding that it turn over customer records for an investigation. The phone company then did something almost unheard of: It fought the letter in court.

The U.S. Department of Justice fired back with a serious accusation. It filed a civil complaint claiming that the company, by not handing over its files, was interfering “with the United States’ sovereign interests” in national security.

This is just the second time a challenge to an NSL has become public–the other being Calyx’s Nicholas Merrill, whom the WSJ also profiles this morning.

WSJ makes a compelling argument the company challenging the NSL is Credo, based in part on details that reveal the company has associational aspects in addition to its phone service. Assuming they’re right, I find it all the more interesting Credo is challenging not just the gag on this NSL, but the underlying order, particularly since the order asks for just the subscriber information–but not the call data–of the subscriber.

all subscriber information, limited to name, address, and length of service, for all services provided to or accounts held by the named subscriber and/or subscriber of the named account.

That is, this is by far the least invasive kind of NSL. Note, information elsewhere in this case is consistent with the possibility that this order seeks information on a group and not just an individual, though that may be boilerplate.

I’d be shocked if this were the first NSL Credo received, so there must be something about the request that makes it particularly worthwhile, from a Constitutional standpoint, to challenge (indeed, thus far a judge has not thrown out their challenge, so the possibility this subscriber is tied to a national security investigation can’t be obvious).

Credo may, after all, be challenging the order to protect the political speech of someone who has chosen to work with Credo because the company supports social causes. Or, if this is a group, it might be challenging an NSL to find out about the group’s recognizably political activities–though subscriber information doesn’t say much about that, unless this NSL would return, effectively, a membership list of a political organization.

But I’m wondering if Credo is also serving as a gate-keeper here. Credo doesn’t own its own lines; it’s just a reseller. And unless something has changed, it resells Sprint’s services. And Sprint is unique–at least as far as we know–for having set up a portal, L-Site, letting law enforcement access information, including precision location, directly.

I attended an invitation-only surveillance industry conference in Washington DC. It was at that event where I recorded an executive from Sprint bragging about the 8 million GPS queries his company delivered via a special website to law enforcement agencies in a 13 month period.

At that same event, Paul W. Taylor, the manager of Sprint/Nextel’s Electronic Surveillance team revealed that the wireless carrier also provides a next-generation surveillance API to law enforcement agencies, allowing them to automate and digitally submit their requests for user data:

“We have actually our LSite [Application Programming Interface (API)] is, there is no agreement that you have to sign. We give it to every single law enforcement manufacturer, the vendors, the law enforcement collection system vendors, we also give it to our CALEA vendors, and we’ve given it to the FBI, we’ve given it to NYPD, to the Drug Enforcement Agency. We have a pilot program with them, where they have a subpoena generation system in-house where their agents actually sit down and enter case data, it gets approved by the head guy at the office, and then from there, it gets electronically sent to Sprint, and we get it … So, the DEA is using this, they’re sending a lot and the turn-around time is 12-24 hours. So we see a lot of uses there.”

This case is noteworthy because it is a rare public challenge. It’s noteworthy because the government has claimed the telecom has no legal means to challenge the NSL.

But there seems to be more to the challenge which, given the likelihood WSJ correctly identified Credo as the company, seems to get at underlying political speech as well.

Tweet about this on Twitter6Share on Reddit0Share on Facebook0Google+0Email to someone

4 Responses to A 15-Month Fight for Subscriber Information

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @ggreenwald @BradMossEsq @MonaHol ..Which blew my mind. But, their jurisdiction was only certain acts within the trial court when needed Fed
1mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @BernardKingIII Nope. That's bullshit. He had extensive exposure to an Ebola patient just before leaving: http://t.co/0h2FdpZE28
2mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @ggreenwald @BradMossEsq @MonaHol Yeah. But reason asked is I once was asked by a PD here to do a Habeas pro bono because he was not allowed
2mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @JasonLeopold All those shackles being put on and taken off probably put a lot of extra stress on joints.
27mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @CliveSSmith: Ironic to be writing from Guantanamo about Moazzam Begg's recent ordeal in the UK; I met him 10yrs ago as he was being hor…
1hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @ArarMaher: Begg freed. I'd not discount possibility charges against him were based on torture confessions British intel received from A…
2hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @ArarMaher: Begg freed. I'd not discount possibility charges against him were based on torture confessions British intel received from A…
2hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @peterwsinger: NJ man shot drone flying over his house, charged with unlawful *firearm use* https://t.co/WWA8py9D1I HT @burritojustice
2hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Think I'll write a short story abt a govt that times its security agreements to the life expectancy of men it has in indefinite detention.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV After this bit of hand-made yumminess, the bread machine is headed for the donation pile. No turning back now. http://t.co/2qFnxCRWYv
3hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Once in a blue moon you really do need to find lipstick, but then all you see are batteries that need recharged.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @DaveJonesUFbeat: Last time #Vols beat #Gators was 30-28 in Knoxville in 2004 ... Ron Zook was fired a little over a month later. Ahem. …
4hreplyretweetfavorite