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

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @barrettmarson It was nasty all the time.
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bmaz @barrettmarson @troyhaydenfox10 I miss the old CB-6. That was fun.
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bmaz Gonna be a lot of this for a very long time https://t.co/4OpGOjTg3t
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bmaz @ryanlcooper Cable is going to be fantastic. All Trump, all the time. You'll love it!
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bmaz @imillhiser Same, and I am not convinced that Cruz wouldn't be worse in many ways. Not convinced Trump is better either.
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bmaz @sahilkapur And disputing that its an acceptable justification for the difference in way Clinton/press acted then and way she is acting now.
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bmaz @sahilkapur No, just disputing that the relative difference is of any current materiality as to whether Sanders stays in race.
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bmaz @sahilkapur And the fact that relative delegate counts were a little different doesn't ratify the propriety of the situation; condemns it
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bmaz @sahilkapur Bullshit. The entire weight of the DLC/DNC and press lackeys were not oriented cravenly against Clinton then as are Sanders now.
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bmaz @sahilkapur I think the statement speaks for itself.
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bmaz @sahilkapur Dewey beats Truman! Let the people vote.
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