The Administration Stops Pretending Phone Dragnet Is Only about Phone Calls

The other day, I noted that the language describing contact-chaining had been changed to permit chaining between identifiers that had a “connection” even without any actual phone contact. At a minimum, this permits the government to contact chain on various phones associated with the same person. But in the telecoms hands (which have access to geolocation information the government may not collect under the phone dragnet) it may also mean close proximity.

The Administration made this all more obvious with changes it added to the HR 3361, AKA the USA Freedom (Freedumb) Act. It changed the language on contact chaining from this:

(I) using the specific selection term that satisfies the standard required under subsection (b)(2)(C)(ii) as the basis for production;

(II) using the results of the production under subclause (I) as the basis for production; and

(III) using the results of the production under subclause (II) as the basis for production;

To this:

(iii) provide that the Government  may require the prompt production of call  detail records—

(I) using the specific selection term that satisfies the standard required under subsection (b)(2)(C)(ii)  as the basis for production; and

(II) using call detail records with a direct connection to such specific selection term as the basis for production of a second set of call detail records;

(iv) provide that, when produced, such records be in a form that will be useful to the Government;

Now there is actually an important improvement in this language. The new language requires each step return to a call detail record: a phone number or SIM card number, for example. The telecoms can’t use things like geolocation or email addresses in that interim hop, as they might have been able to do under the previous language.

Though the end results may only need to be “a form that will be useful to the Government.” Before, the end results had to be a CDR; this would seem to permit some other kind of result.

And along the way, the Administration has abandoned all pretense that contact-chaining is only about tracking who calls whom. This language makes clear that the chaining is about connections.

As I said, the most obvious kind of “connection” is a burner phone: identifying the new phone of the same target based off the old phones existing call patterns. And, given the big push to outsource the call records to the telecoms, NSA surely intends to use cell location (the telecoms can legally use location, whereas the NSA is not permitted to under current FISA rules).

But those are only the most obvious applications. It would take a great deal of imagination, I think, to anticipate all the kinds of connections the NSA might ask the telecoms to make for them.

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4 Responses to The Administration Stops Pretending Phone Dragnet Is Only about Phone Calls

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bmaz One man should not dictate immigration policy http://t.co/4sMktpiPOq John Boehner may be acting legally. But is he acting properly?
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bmaz Need NSA to decipher RT @benjaminwittes My first improvisational woodwork table: uneven, not quite level, and done http://t.co/hNnetes1JJ
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emptywheel @stevenzzhou What do you mean by that?
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emptywheel RT @LilianaSegura: "Mindful of the bad name that night raids have, the American military has renamed them 'night operations.'” http://t.co/
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JimWhiteGNV @Pedinska Our dogs don't know the fun they have in store. Older daughter is bringing her dog for a few days at Thanksgiving.
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bmaz Jimmy McCulloch is a very underrated guitar player.
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bmaz What a lousy day of football here in Cactusland. Bleech!
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bmaz I KNOW he is on my side, so I cannot understand how @AllThingsHLS is letting the SeaSquawks kick Arizona's ass like this. #YouCanStopNow
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bmaz On behalf of Cheeseheads everywhere, from the heart of Mr. Rodger's neighborhood, thank you sincerely to the New England Patriots.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 I jinxed him.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 A lot of great passes were dropped, even by people who normally catch them.
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emptywheel Vince Wilfork got almost up to sumo weight in his injury year. He'd be damn good at sumo, I bet.
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