Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Visit Pee-Clob

The first panel of an all-day Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board hearing on Section 702 of FISA just finished.

It featured NSA General Counsel Raj De, ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt, Deputy AAG for National Security Brad Weigmann, and FBI General Counsel James Baker.

While there were a number of interesting disclosures — which I’ll get at in the future — the most striking aspect of the hearing was the tooth-pulling effort to get the panel to define the terms they use.

There were a slew of terms defined, among others including “minimization,” “bulk collection,” “PRISM,”

But the most interesting redefinitions were for “purge” and “search.”

After much tooth-pulling, James Dempsey got De to admit that NSA’s definition of the word “search” is different from the one used in the Fourth Amendment. Actually, that may not be entirely true: Sometimes the actual collection of data counts as a search, sometimes only the querying of it does. NSA gets to decide which is which, best as I can tell, in secret or in legal filings where it will serve to deprive someone of standing.

Then there’s “purge,” which I can’t hear anymore without seeing a pink speech bubble and scare quotes surrounding the word. Purge does not mean — as you might expect — “destroy.” Rather, it means only “remove from NSA systems in such a way that it cannot be used.” Which, best as I understand it, means they’re not actually destroying this data.

I do hope EFF figures that out before they argue the protection order for Section 215 today, as on those terms it seems increasingly clear NSA is not complying with the Jewel protection order.

“Purge.” To keep. Somewhere else.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. JTMinIA says:

    Unless the last word in the sixth paragraph was a witty reference to having silicone dioxide in ones nether area (which doesn’t seem like you), I think you meant “standing.”

    I look forward to the weedier posts on this topic.

  2. Peterr says:

    This makes the NSAs experience with the FISC much more understandable. Obviously, NSA is working with a different definition of “comply” than everyone else in the known world.

  3. Stephen says:

    Sounds like they must use a different version of the English language inside the bowels of the NSA, one they make up themselves as they go along.

  4. Ryan says:

    This is the definition of “purging” from the NIST and may be more clear:
    “Purging information is a media sanitization process that protects the confidentiality of information against a laboratory attack.”


    The NSA probably helped in the creation of the document and having different agencies of the federal government use different meanings for the same word would be too stupid any large organization, I’d say that “purge” as used by the NSA is the same as the NIST’s.

    While the drives containing the records could be destroyed instead, that would involve the premature shredding and incineration of a number of otherwise clean, empty, and reusable drives. The data is simply gone after being purged, and is unrecoverable using any means available. We do not live in a Tom Clancy novel, data recovery from a purged drive is simply not possible.

Comments are closed.