For the Purposes of Analytical Efficiency, Making Copies of the Dragnet

In 2008, NSA started (or started telling the FISA Court) it was copying the dragnet.

Starting with the January docket BR 08-01 (the date is illegible but it should be around January 4, 2008), the orders added a footnote saying,

5 The Court understands that for the purposes of analytical efficiency a copy of meta data obtained pursuant to the Court’s Orders in this matter will be stored in the same database with data obtained pursuant to other NSA authorities and data provided to NSA from other sources. Access to such records shall be strictly limited in accordance with the procedures set forth in paragraphs A – G.

The footnote would appear in four more orders that year:  BR 08-04 4/3/08; BR 08-07 6/26/08; BR 08-08 9/19/08?. Then it disappeared in the December 11,  2008 docket, BR 08-13 12/11/08. It did not appear in any other orders, though starting with the October 29, 2010 docket BR 10-70, a different footnote noted that “NSA will maintain the BR metadata in recovery back-up systems.”

The change almost certainly relates to the federated query system, in which all the data from EO 12333 collection (and, given the reference to “data provided to NSA from other sources,” probably GCHQ collection) was and, at least until 2011, remained accessible from one interface.

The footnote almost certainly does reflect a change in the way NSA handled the data (that is, in this case NSA informed FISC in timely fashion), because by April of that year, 31 “newly trained” NSA analysts were caught querying domestic phone data using 2,373 identifiers without knowing they were doing so, which seems to indicate the “newly trained” analysts just kept querying metadata as they would have using EO 12333 collected data. Though NSA didn’t tell FISC about that until 6 months later. In the interim (in August 2008), NSA also told FISC about how it correlated numbers — which we know works across data sources, not exclusively within the domestic data collection.

In other words, NSA was slowly integrating the phone dragnet in with its larger metadata collection, and informing — perhaps even more slowly — FISC what that meant.

In spite of the disappearance of the footnote in the first orders dealing with the dragnet problems in 2009, the NSA did not segregate the data from the federated interface. That’s clear from a memorandum of understanding NSA issued sometime after March 18, 2009 indicating that access to one metadata repository had been shut down, but four were still accessible:

  • SIGINT dating back to 1998
  • [redacted — which could be STELLAR WIND data or could be foreign-supplied data]
  • BRFISA dating back to May 2006
  • PR/TT dating back to a redacted date that public records show to be July 2004

Given the previous inclusion of 3,000 US persons in with other queries, it’s possible the newly excluded collection consisted of GCHQ collected data that included significant US person data.

I raise all this to point out one of the inherent dangers with the dragnet. A program that was billed as a simple collection designed to serve FBI needs got integrated within 2 years of inception, creating a great deal of problems, without reconsideration of whether the stated purpose of the dragnet still matched what the by-then clearly different intent was. And this from a program that was supposed to be closely minimized.

Oh by the way, NSA told the FISC, we made an extra copy of the database of all phone-based relationships in the United States. Because it’s more efficient to have two databases.

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2 Responses to For the Purposes of Analytical Efficiency, Making Copies of the Dragnet

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @iPadMTG Yes, but at times the family does weigh in both on donation and when organs will be harvested. @LDoren
27sreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren Yes. But you're the one limiting her choice to make medical decisions, not me.
2mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren Mind you, in many cases, such a choice might make it impossible to donate the organs.
5mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren So if a fetus ends up killing the woman in that situation is it cool for her to donate her organs?
6mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren A medical decision made for medical reasons? Is "death" voluntary in your list of voluntary things that are mere "choices"?
10mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren So, yes, you are applying a non-medical term to a medical procedure, one which very often involves doctor's recommendations?
14mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren You know in medicine "elective" is reserved to operations that aren't necessary for health? Like knee replacement. This like that?
17mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren I'm hoping you can think about where your notion of the kinds of "choices" being made for late term abortions come from.
21mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren So you don't know? Know anyone who has had to get one? (Emphasis on "had")
24mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren "By choice." what is your understanding of why most late terms happen?
31mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren So mom's have MORE guardian authority over babies than they do over fetuses?
35mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @LDoren But if same mom's kid dies (or was always nonviable, another common late term issue), then it's okay for her to choose to donate?
37mreplyretweetfavorite
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