USA Freedumber Appears to Strengthen RuppRoge’s Affirmative Endorsement of an Internet Dragnet

Working on a detailed comparison of the difference between the USA Freedumb and USA Freedumber bills, one of the most alarming changes is the gutting of Pen Register minimization procedures. They took language not only adding minimization procedures to Pen Register orders,

(b) APPLICATION.—Section 402(c) (50 U.S.C. 1842(c)), as amended by section 201 of this Act, is further amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

(4) a statement of proposed minimization procedures.

(c) ORDER.—Section 402(d) (50 U.S.C. 1842(d)) is amended—

(1) in paragraph (1), by inserting ‘‘and that the proposed minimization procedures meet the definition of minimization procedures under this title’’

But permitting the court to review whether the government met those minimization procedures.

(h) At or before the end of the period of time for which the installation and use of a pen register or trap and trace device is approved under an order or an extension under this section, the judge may assess compliance with the minimization procedures by reviewing the circumstances under which information concerning United States persons was retained or disseminated.’

They even specified the government had to follow those minimization procedures!

USA Freedumber changed that by letting the Attorney General review what are are now called “privacy procedures.”

(h) The Attorney General shall ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are in place to safeguard non-publicly available information concerning United States persons that is collected through the use of a pen register or trap and trace device installed under this section. Such policies and procedures shall, to the maximum extent practicable and consistent with the need to protect  national security, include protections for the collection, retention, and use of information concerning United States persons.

They limit the extent of these “privacy procedures” “to the extent practicable … with the need to protect national security.” That is, they don’t have to follow these “privacy procedures” if it’ll harm national security, and the change seems to show legislative intent to deprive the FISC of any review.

That’s alarming for a number of reasons:

  • From the very beginning of the Internet dragnet, the government claimed FISC had almost no authority over the approval process (much less compliance) on Pen Registers
  • This language comes right out of — but makes worse — the section of Mike Rogers’ RuppRoge bill that affirmatively approves the (re)creation of an Internet dragnet
  • There’s a curious entry in the NSA classification guide showing FBI conducting a PRTT program after the time NSA’s program got shut down

NSA versus FISC

According to a footnote in the 2010 John Bates opinion on the Internet dragnet, when the government first applied to Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for a FISC order to authorize the dragnet, they claimed she had no authority to do anything but rubber stamp the application.

2010 Bates Opinion footnote

We know that, having made that argument, the government got caught in violating the rules Kollar-Kotelly placed on the collection, but then continued to violate the rules for at least 5 more years, until 2009, when it got shut down for a while.

It would seem that the original language in USA Freedom Act would have clarified this issue, and made clear the FISC could exercise real oversight over any PRTT collection.

Adopting RuppRoge’s Internet Dragnet language

This language adopts the nomenclature from the HPSCI’s RuppRoge bill. (See page 18.)

But these “privacy procedures” seem qualitatively worse than the RuppRoge bill in several ways. RuppRoge provides loosey goosey judicial review of the privacy procedures. And it did not include the “extent practicable” language.

Given the background — given the fact that the government has already told the FISC it shouldn’t have real oversight over PRTT — this language seems to lay clear legislative intent that FISC should have no role whatsoever, especially not with minimization procedures (which, after all, is what they fought with the FISC over for at least  years).

The secrecy behind the FBI’s PRTT orders on behalf of NSA


Finally, there’s a series of entries on the classification guide for FISA programs leaked by Edward Snowden.

These entries show that FBI obtained counterterrorism information using PRTTs for NSA — which was considered Secret.

But that the FBI PR/TT program — which seems different than these individual orders — was considered TS/SI/NOFORN.


If you compare these entries with the rest of the classification guide, you see that this information — the fact that NSA gets PRTT information from FBI (in addition to information from Pen Registers, which seems to be treated differently at the Secret level)  — is treated with the same degree of secrecy as the actual targeting information or raw collected data on all other programs.

This is considered one of the most sensitive secrets in the whole FISA package.


Even minimized PRTT data is considered TS/SCI.


Now, it is true that this establishes an exact parallel with the BR FISA program (which the classification guide makes clear NSA obtained directly). So it may be attributable to the fact that the existence of the programs themselves was considered a highly sensitive secret.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe this just reflects paranoia about the way NSA was secretly relying on the PATRIOT Act to conduct massive dragnet programs.

Except there’s the date.

This classification guide was updated on February 7, 2012 — over a month after NSA shut down the PRTT program. Also, over a month after — according to Theresa Shea — the NSA destroyed all the data it had obtained under PRTT. (Note, her language seems to make clear that this was the NSA’s program, not the FBI’s.)

That is, over a month after the NSA ended its PRTT program and destroyed the data from it (at least according to sworn declarations before a court), the NSA’s classification guide referred to an FBI PRTT program that it considered one of its most sensitive secrets. And seemed to consider active.

If FBI had a PRTT program active in 2012 that was separate from the NSA PRTT program (I’m not sure that’s the case; it could be they just didn’t update this part of the classification guide), then is it still active? Has the Internet dragnet just moved to FBI?

If so, it’s no wonder why the Intelligence Community would want to guarantee that FISC had no review of it.

Update: Note, too, that the bill removes reporting requirements related to PRTT.


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8 Responses to USA Freedumber Appears to Strengthen RuppRoge’s Affirmative Endorsement of an Internet Dragnet

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bmaz @_JGR Now, I am NOT saying I think that should work here, but with a cop, I think you have a spitting chance with a good expert.
bmaz @_JGR That it was reflexive under the heat+stress of the moment, and therefore not premeditated. Trustme, there are "cop experts" for this.
emptywheel @richietynan He's not REALLY a teenager, just claiming to be.
emptywheel @richietynan The panel needs to know a hacker claiming to be a teenager just got into FBI's counterpart of that system.
emptywheel Don't tell the terrorists the FBI knows some people have separate work phone numbers or they'll win!
bmaz RT @WilliamBaude: Self-recommending and much-needed: Eugene Volokh on the "Speech integral to criminal conduct" exception
emptywheel @richietynan It's actually useful to see how they rationalize this stuff.
emptywheel @richietynan Is this streaming?
emptywheel Seriously people. The FBI considered it an 11-year secret that they can get day AND evening phone numbers w/an NSL. Day AND evening!
emptywheel Govt clusterfuckery. The govt redacted this footnote in September.
emptywheel @seansposito They're already mandated to do that. They just don't care and Congress won't make them care.
emptywheel Also unsealed by @nickcalyx is full opinion. FBI had wanted to hide this info, which it revealed in Marathon trial.
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