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Friday Morning: Nasty Habits

I got nasty habits; I take tea at three.
— Mick Jagger

Hah. Just be careful what water you use to make that tea, Mick. Could be an entirely different realm of nasty.

Late start here, too much to read this morning. I’ll keep updating this as I write. Start your day off, though, by reading Marcy’s post from last night. The claws are coming out, the life boats are getting punctured.

Many WordPress-powered sites infected with ransomware
Your next assignment this morning: check and update applications as out-of-date versions of Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Silverlight, or Internet Explorer are most prone to this new wave of ransomware affecting WordPress sites. Back up all your data files to offline media in case you are hit with ransomware, and make it a habit to back up data files more frequently.

Planes inbound to the UK from regions with Zika virus may be sprayed
Take one tightly-closed oversized can, spray interior with insecticide, then insert humans before sealing for several hours. This sounds like a spectacularly bad idea to me. What about you? Yet this is what the UK is poised to do with planes flying in from areas with frequent Zika infections.

Comcast a possible smartphone service provider
NO. I don’t even have Comcast, yet I think this company is one of the worst suited to offering smartphones and service to their users. The company has expressed interest in bidding on spectrum for wireless, however. Comcast has struggled for years with one of — if not THE — worst reps for customer service. How do they think they will manage to expand their service offering without pissing off more customers?

AT&T obstructing muni broadband
No surprise here that AT&T is lobbying hard against more broadband, especially that offered by communities. The public knows there’s a problem with marketplace competition when they don’t have multiple choices for broadband, and they want solutions even if they have to build it themselves. When AT&T annoys a Republican lawmaker while squelching competition, they’ve gone too far. Keep an eye on this one as it may shape muni broadband everywhere.

Volkswagen roundup
VW delayed both its earnings report scheduled March 10th and its annual meeting scheduled April 21. The car maker says it needs more time to assess impact of the emissions control scandal on its books. New dates for the report and meeting have not been announced.

Volkswagen Financial Services, the banking arm of VW’s holding company structure which finances auto sales and leases, suffers from the ongoing scandal. Ratings firms have downgraded both the bank and parent firm. Not mentioned in the article: potential negative impact of emissions control scandal on VW’s captive reinsurer, Volkswagen Insurance Company Ltd (VICO).

Both the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a civil suit against VW in Detroit this week. Separate criminal charges are still possible.

That’s a wrap, I’m all caught up on my usual read-feed. Get nasty as you want come 5:00 p.m. because it’s Friday!

FBI’s Open NSL Requests

DOJ’s Inspector General just released a report of all the recommendations it made prior to September 15, 2015 that are not yet closed. As it explained in the release, the IG compiled the report in response to a congressional request, but they’ve posted (and will continue to post, every 6 months) the report for our benefit as well.

Specifically, we have posted a report listing all recommendations from OIG audits, evaluations, and reviews that we had not closed as of September 30, 2015.  As you will see, most of the recommendations show a status of “resolved,” which indicates that the Department of Justice has agreed with our recommendation, but we have not yet concluded that they have fully implemented it.

As that release made clear, most of the recommendations that have not yet been closed are not open, but resolved, which means DOJ has agreed with the IG’s recommendation but has not fully implemented a fix for that recommendation.

Which leaves the “open” recommendations, which might include recommendations DOJ hasn’t agreed to address or hasn’t told the IG how they’ll address. There are 20 open recommendations in the report, most of which date to 2014. That’s largely because every single one of the 10 recommendations made in the 2014 report on National Security Letters remains open. Here are some of my posts on that report (one, two, three, four, five), but the recommendations pertain to not ingesting out-of-scope information, counting the NSL’s accurately, and maintaining paperwork so as to be able to track NSLs. [Update: as the update below notes, the FBI response to the released report claimed it was responding, in whole or in part, to all 10 recommendations, which means the “open” category here means that FBI has not had time to go back and certify that FBI has done what it said.]

Three of the other still-open recommendations pertain to hiring; they pertain to nepotism, applicants for the civil rights division wanting to enforce civil rights laws (!), and the use of political tests for positions hiring career attorneys (this was the Monica Goodling report). Another still open recommendation suggests DOJ should document why US Attorneys book hotels that are outside cost limits (this pertains, ironically, to Chris Christie’s travel while US Attorney).

The remaining 2 recommendations, both of which date to 2010, are of particular interest.

1/19/2010: A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Use of Exigent Letters and Other Informal Requests for Telephone Records

The OIG recommends that the FBI should issue guidance specifically directing FBI personnel that they may not use the practices known as hot number [classified and redacted] to obtain calling activity information from electronic communications service providers.

The first pertains to the IG Report on exigent letters. The report described (starting on PDF 94) how FBI contracted with two providers for “hot number” services that would let them alert the FBI when certain numbers were being used. FBI first contracted for the service with MCI or Verizon, not AT&T (as happened with most tech novelties in this program). The newly released version of the report make it clear that redactions are redacted for b1 (classification), b4 (trade secrets), b7A (enforcement proceedings), and b7E (law enforcement technique). At one point, then General Counsel now lifetime appointed judge Valerie Caproni said the practice did not require Pen Registers.

I find this practice — and FBI’s longstanding unwillingness to forswear it — interesting for two reasons. First, most references to the practice follow “hot number” by a short redaction.

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That suggests “hot number” may just be a partial name. Given that this section makes it clear this was often used with fugitives — just as Stingrays are often most often used — I wonder whether this involved “number” and “site.” That’s especially true since Company C (again, MCI or Verizon) also tracked whether calls were being made from a particular area code or [redacted], suggesting some location tracking function.

I’m also interested in this because “hot numbers” tracks the unauthorized “alert” function the NSA was using with the phone dragnet up until 2009. As you recall, NSA analysts would get an alert if any of thousands of phone numbers got used in a given day, none of which it counted as a contact-chaining session.

In other words, this practice might be related to one or both of these things. And 6 years later, the FBI doesn’t want to forswear the practice.

9/20/2010, A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups

The OIG recommends that the FBI seek to ensure that it is able to identify and document the source of facts provided to Congress through testimony and correspondence, and to the public.

This report (see one of my posts on it) reviewed why the FBI had investigated a bunch of peace and other advocacy groups as international terrorist groups dating back to 2004. ACLU had FOIAed some documents on investigations into Pittsburgh’s peace community. In response, Patrick Leahy started asking for answers, which led to obvious obfuscation from the FBI. And as I noted, even the normally respectable Glenn Fine produced a report that was obviously scoped not to find what it was looking for.

Nevertheless, a key part of the report pertained to FBI’s inability (or unwillingess) to respond to Leahy’s inquiries about what had started this investigation or to explain where the sources of information for their responses came from. (See PDF 56) The FBI, to this day, has apparently refused to agree to commit to be able to document where the information it responds to Congress comes from.

I will have more to say on this now, but I believe this is tantamount to retaining the ability to parallel construct answers for Congress. I’m quite confident that’s what happened here, and it seems that FBI has spent 6 years refusing to give up the ability to do that.


I didn’t read it when I originally reported in the NSL IG report, but it, like most IG reports, has a response from FBI, which in this case is quite detailed. The FBI claims that it had fulfilled most recommendations well before the report was released.

The response to the open exigent letter recommendation is at PDF 224. It’s not very compelling; it only promised to consider issuing a statement to say “hot number [redacted]” was prohibited.

The response to the 2014 report recommendations start on PDF 226. Of those, the FBI didn’t say they agreed with one part of one recommendations:

  • That the NSL subsystem generate reminders if an agent hasn’t verified return data for manual NSLs (which are sensitive)

In addition, with respect to the data requested with NSLs, FBI has taken out expansive language from manual models for NSLs (this includes an attachment the other discussion of which is redacted), but had not yet from the automated system.

AT&T Says Its Voluntary Sharing of Customer Data Is Classified

Back in October, I wondered whether companies would be able to claim they had chosen not to participate in CISA’s voluntary data sharing in their transparency reports. While CISA prohibits the involuntary disclosure of such participation, I don’t know that anything prohibits the voluntary disclosure, particularly of non-participation.

A related question is playing out right now over a shareholder resolution filed by Arjuna Capital asking AT&T to reveal its voluntary sharing with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The resolution asks only for a report on sharing that is not legally mandated, and exempts any information that is legally protected.

Resolved, shareholders request that the Company issue a report, at reasonable
expense and excluding proprietary or legally protected information, clarifying the
Company’s policies regarding providing information to law enforcement and
intelligence agencies, domestically and internationally, above and beyond what is legally required by court order or other legally mandated process, whether and how
the policies have changed since 2013, and assessing risks to the Company’s finances
and operations arising from current and past policies and practices.

AT&T has asked the SEC for permission to ignore this resolution based, in part, on the claim that its voluntary cooperation would be a state secret that requires AT&T to effectively Glomar its own shareholders.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.08.35 AM

The Sidley Austin opinion cites the Espionage Act for its claim that this information is a state secret. It also pretends this is all about the NSA, when FBI and DEA play a critical role in some of the surveillance AT&T is believed to willingly participate in.

The resolution doesn’t seem to include any question specifically addressing OmniCISA participation, though it was written before final passage of OmniCISA last month.

The response from AT&T raises interesting questions about whether a telecom (or other electronic communications service provider) can be obligated for voluntary activity.

What We Know about the Section 215 Phone Dragnet and Location Data

Last month’s squabble between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz about USA Freedom Act led a number of USAF boosters to belatedly understand what I’ve been writing for years: that USAF expanded the universe of people whose records would be collected under the program, and would therefore expose more completely innocent people, along with more potential suspects, to the full analytical tradecraft of the NSA, indefinitely.

In an attempt to explain why that might be so, Julian Sanchez wrote this post, focusing on the limits on location data collection that restricted cell phone collection. Sanchez ignores two other likely factors — the probable inclusion of Internet phone calls and the ability to do certain kinds of connection chaining — that mark key new functionalities in the program which would have posed difficulties prior to USAF. But he also misses a lot of the public facts about location collection and cell phones under the Section 215 dragnet.  This post will lay those out.

The short version is this: the FISC appears to have imposed some limits on prospective cell location collection under Section 215 even as the phone dragnet moved over to it, and it was not until August 2011 that NSA started collecting cell phone records — stripped of location — from AT&T under Section 215 collection rules. The NSA was clearly getting “domestic” records from cell phones prior to that point, though it’s possible they weren’t coming from Section 215 data. Indeed, the only known “successes” of the phone dragnet — Basaaly Moalin and Adis Medunjanin — identified cell phones. It’s not clear whether those came from EO 12333, secondary database information that didn’t include location, or something else.

Here’s the more detailed explanation, along with a timeline of key dates:

There is significant circumstantial evidence that by February 17, 2006 — two months before the FISA Court approved the use of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to aspire to collect all Americans’ phone records — the FISA Court required briefing on the use of “hybrid” requests to get real-time location data from targets using a FISA Pen Register together with a Section 215 order. The move appears to have been a reaction to a series of magistrates’ rulings against a parallel practice in criminal cases. The briefing order came in advance of the 2006 PATRIOT Act reauthorization going into effect, which newly limited Section 215 requests to things that could be obtained with a grand jury subpoena. Because some courts had required more than a subpoena to obtain location, it appears, FISC reviewed the practice in the FISC — and, given the BR/PR numbers reported in IG Reports, ended, sometime before the end of 2006 though not immediately.

The FISC taking notice of criminal rulings and restricting FISC-authorized collection accordingly would be consistent with information provided in response to a January 2014 Ron Wyden query about what standards the FBI uses for obtaining location data under FISA. To get historic data (at least according to the letter), FBI used a 215 order at that point. But because some district courts (this was written in 2014, before some states and circuits had weighed in on prospective location collection, not to mention the 11th circuit ruling on historical location data under US v. Davis) require a warrant, “the FBI elects to seek prospective CSLI pursuant to a full content FISA order, thus matching the higher standard imposed in some U.S. districts.” In other words, as soon as some criminal courts started requiring a warrant, FISC apparently adopted that standard. If FISC continued to adopt criminal precedents, then at least after the first US v. Davis ruling, it would have and might still require a warrant (that is, an individualized FISA order) even for historical cell location data (though Davis did not apply to Stingrays).

FISC doesn’t always adopt the criminal court standard; at least until 2009 and by all appearances still, for example, FISC permits the collection, then minimization, of Post Cut Through Dialed Digits collected using FISA Pen Registers, whereas in the criminal context FBI does not collect PCTDD. But the FISC does take notice of, and respond to — even imposing a higher national security standard than what exists at some district levels — criminal court decisions. So the developments affecting location collection in magistrate, district, and circuit courts would be one limit on the government’s ability to collect location under FISA.

That wouldn’t necessarily prevent NSA from collecting cell records using a Section 215 order, at least until the Davis decision. After all, does that count as historic (a daily collection of records each day) or prospective (the approval to collect data going forward in 90 day approvals)? Plus, given the PCTDD and some other later FISA decisions, it’s possible FISC would have permitted the government to collect but minimize location data. But the decisions in criminal courts likely gave FISC pause, especially considering the magnitude of the production.

Then there’s the chaos of the program up to 2009.

At least between January 2008 and March 2009, and to some degree for the entire period preceding the 2009 clean-up of the phone and Internet dragnets, the NSA was applying EO 12333 standards to FISC-authorized metadata collection. In January 2008, NSA co-mingled 215 and EO 12333 data in either a repository or interface, and when the shit started hitting the fan the next year, analysts were instructed to distinguish the two authorities by date (which would have been useless to do). Not long after this data was co-mingled in 2008, FISC first approved IMEI and IMSI as identifiers for use in Section 215 chaining. In other words, any restrictions on cell collection in this period may have been meaningless, because NSA wasn’t heeding FISC’s restrictions on PATRIOT authorized collection, nor could it distinguish between the data it got under EO 12333 and Section 215.

Few people seem to get this point, but at least during 2008, and probably during the entire period leading up to 2009, there was no appreciable analytical border between where the EO 12333 phone dragnet ended and the Section 215 one began.

There’s no unredacted evidence (aside from the IMEI/IMSI permission) the NSA was collecting cell phone records under Section 215 before the 2009 process, though in 2009, both Sprint and Verizon (even AT&T, though to a much less significant level) had to separate out their entirely foreign collection from their domestic, meaning they were turning over data subject to EO 12333 and Section 215 together for years. That’s also roughly the point when NSA moved toward XML coding of data on intake, clearly identifying where and under what authority it obtained the data. Thus, it’s only from that point forward where (at least according to what we know) the data collected under Section 215 would clearly have adhered to any restrictions imposed on location.

In 2010, the NSA first started experimenting with smaller collections of records including location data at a time when Verizon Wireless was named on primary orders. And we have two separate documents describing what NSA considered its first collection of cell data under Section 215 on August 29, 2011. But it did so only after AT&T had stripped the location data from the records.

It appears Verizon never did the same (indeed, Verizon objected to any request to do so in testimony leading up to USAF’s passage). The telecoms used different methods of delivering call records under the program. In fact, in August 2, 2012, NSA’s IG described the orders as requiring telecoms to produce “certain call detail records (CDRs) or telephony metadata,” which may differentiate records that (which may just be AT&T) got processed before turning over. Also in 2009, part of Verizon ended its contract with the FBI to provide special compliance with NSLs. Both things may have affected Verizon’s ability or willingness to custom what it was delivering to NSA, as compared to AT&T.

All of which suggests that at least Verizon could not or chose not to do what AT&T did: strip location data from its call records. Section 215, before USAF, could only require providers to turn over records they kept, it could not require, as USAF may, provision of records under the form required by the government. Additionally, under Section 215, providers did not get compensated after the first two dragnet orders.

All that said, the dragnet has identified cell phones! In fact, the only known “successes” under Section 215 — the discovery of Basaaly Moalin’s T-Mobile cell phone and the discovery of Adis Medunjanin’s unknown, but believed to be Verizon, cell phone — did, and they are cell phones from companies that didn’t turn over records. In addition, there’s another case, cited in a 2009 Robert Mueller declaration preceding the Medunjanin discovery, that found a US-based cell phone.

There are several possible explanations for that. The first is that these phones were identified based off calls from landlines and/or off backbone records (so the phone number would be identified, but not the cell information). But note that, in the Moalin case, there are no known land lines involved in the presumed chain from Ayro to Moalin.

Another possibility — a very real possibility with some of these — is that the underlying records weren’t collected under Section 215 at all, but were instead collected under EO 12333 (though Moalin’s phone was identified before Michael Mukasey signed off on procedures permitting the chaining through US person records). That’s all the more likely given that all the known hits were collected before the point in 2009 when the FISC started requiring providers to separate out foreign (EO 12333) collection from domestic and international (Section 215) collection. In other words, the Section 215 phone dragnet may have been working swimmingly up until 2009 because NSA was breaking the rules, but as soon as it started abiding by the rules — and adhering to FISC’s increasingly strict limits on cell location data — it all of a sudden became virtually useless given the likelihood that potential terrorism targets would use exclusively cell and/or Internet calls just as they came to bypass telephony lines. Though as that happened, the permissions on tracking US persons via records collected under EO 12333, including doing location analysis, grew far more permissive.

In any case, at least in recent years, it’s clear that by giving notice and adjusting policy to match districts, the FISC and FBI made it very difficult to collect prospective location records under FISA, and therefore absent some means of forcing telecoms to strip their records before turning them over, to collect cell data.

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Marco Rubio Leaks that the Phone Dragnet Has Expanded to “A Large Number of Companies”

Last night, Marco Rubio went on Fox News to try to fear-monger over the phone dragnet again.

He repeated the claim that the AP also idiotically parroted uncritically — that the government can only get three years of records for the culprits in the San Bernardino attack.

In the case of these individuals that conducted this attack, we cannot see any phone records for the first three years in which — you can only see them up to three years. You’ll not be able to see the full five-year picture.

Again, he’s ignoring the AT&T backbone records that cover virtually all of Syed Rizwan Farook’s 28-year life that are available, that 215 phone dragnet could never have covered Tashfeen Malik’s time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and that EO 12333 collection not only would cover Malik’s time before she came to the US, but would also include Farook’s international calls going back well over 5 years.

So he’s either an idiot or he’s lying on that point.

I’m more interested in what he said before that, because he appears to have leaked a classified detail about the ongoing USA Freedom dragnet: that they’ve been issuing orders to a “large and significant number of companies” under the new dragnet.

There are large and significant number of companies that either said, we are not going to collect records at all, we’re not going to have any records if you come asking for them, or we’re only going to keep them on average of 18 months. When the intelligence community or law enforcement comes knocking and subpoenas those records, in many cases there won’t be any records because some of these companies already said they’re not going to hold these records. And the result is that we will not be able in many cases to put together the full puzzle, the full picture of some of these individuals.

Let me clear: I’m certain this fact, that the IC has been asking for records from “a large number of companies,” is classified. For a guy trying to run for President as an uber-hawk, leaking such details (especially in appearance where he calls cleared people who leak like Edward Snowden “traitors”) ought to be entirely disqualifying.

But that detail is not news to emptywheel readers. As I noted in my analysis of the Intelligence Authorization the House just passed, James Clapper would be required to do a report 30 days after the authorization passes telling Congress which “telecoms” aren’t holding your call records for 18 months.

Section 307: Requires DNI to report if telecoms aren’t hoarding your call records

This adds language doing what some versions of USA Freedom tried to requiring DNI to report on which “electronic communications service providers” aren’t hoarding your call records for at least 18 months. He will have to do a report after 30 days listing all that don’t (bizarrely, the bill doesn’t specify what size company this covers, which given the extent of ECSPs in this country could be daunting), and also report to Congress within 15 days if any of them stop hoarding your records.

That there would be so many companies included Clapper would need a list surprised me, a bit. When I analyzed the House Report on the bill, I predicted USAF would pull in anything that might be described as a “call.”

We have every reason to believe the CDR function covers all “calls,” whether telephony or Internet, unlike the existing dragnet. Thus, for better and worse, far more people will be exposed to chaining than under the existing dragnet. It will catch more potential terrorists, but also more innocent people. As a result, far more people will be sucked into the NSA’s maw, indefinitely, for exploitation under all its analytical functions. This raises the chances that an innocent person will get targeted as a false positive.

At the same time, I thought that the report’s usage of “phone company” might limit collection to the providers that had been included — AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — plus whatever providers cell companies aren’t already using their backbone, as well as the big tech companies that by dint of being handset manufacturers, that is, “phone” companies, could be obligated to turn over messaging records — things like iMessage and Skype metadata.

Nope. According to uber-hawk who believes leakers are traitors Marco Rubio, a “large number” of companies are getting requests.

From that I assume that the IC is sending requests to the entire universe of providers laid out by Verizon Associate General Counsel Michael Woods in his testimony to SSCI in 2014:

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Woods describes Skype (as the application that carried 34% of international minutes in 2012), as well as applications like iMessage and smaller outlets of particular interest like Signal as well as conferencing apps.

So it appears the intelligence committees, because they’re morons who don’t understand technology (and ignored Woods) got themselves in a pickle, because they didn’t realize that if you want full coverage from all “phone” communication, you’re going to have to go well beyond even AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Apple, Microsoft, and Google (all of which have compliance departments and the infrastructure to keep such records). They are going to try to obtain all the call records, from every little provider, whether or not they actually have the means with which to keep and comply with such requests. Some — Signal might be among them — simply aren’t going to keep records, which is what Rubio is complaining about.

That’s a daunting task — and I can see why Rubio, if he believes that’s what needs to happen, is flustered by it. But, of course, it has nothing to do with the end of the old gap-filled dragnet. Indeed, that daunting problem arises because the new program aspires to be more comprehensive.

In any case, I’m grateful Rubio has done us the favor of laying out precisely what gaps the IC is currently trying to fill, but hawks like Rubio will likely call him a traitor for doing so.

The Reasons to Shut Down the (Domestic) Internet Dragnet: Purpose and Dissemination Limits, Correlations, and Functionality

Charlie Savage has a story that confirms (he linked some of my earlier reporting) something I’ve long argued: NSA was willing to shut down the Internet dragnet in 2011 because it could do what it wanted using other authorities. In it, Savage points to an NSA IG Report on its purge of the PRTT data that he obtained via FOIA. The document includes four reasons the government shut the program down, just one of which was declassified (I’ll explain what is probably one of the still-classified reasons probably in a later post). It states that SPCMA and Section 702 can fulfill the requirements that the Internet dragnet was designed to meet. The government had made (and I had noted) a similar statement in a different FOIA for PRTT materials in 2014, though this passage makes it even more clear that SPCMA — DOD’s self-authorization to conduct analysis including US persons on data collected overseas — is what made the switch possible.

It’s actually clear there are several reasons why the current plan is better for the government than the previous dragnet, in ways that are instructive for the phone dragnet, both retrospectively for the USA F-ReDux debate and prospectively as hawks like Tom Cotton and Jeb Bush and Richard Burr try to resuscitate an expanded phone dragnet. Those are:

  • Purpose and dissemination limits
  • Correlations
  • Functionality

Purpose and dissemination limits

Both the domestic Internet and phone dragnet limited their use to counterterrorism. While I believe the Internet dragnet limits were not as stringent as the phone ones (at least in pre 2009 shutdown incarnation), they both required that the information only be disseminated for a counterterrorism purpose. The phone dragnet, at least, required someone sign off that’s why information from the dragnet was being disseminated.

Admittedly, when the FISC approved the use of the phone dragnet to target Iran, it was effectively authorizing its use for a counterproliferation purpose. But the government’s stated admissions — which are almost certainly not true — in the Shantia Hassanshahi case suggest the government would still pretend it was not using the phone dragnet for counterproliferation purposes. The government now claims it busted Iranian-American Hassanshahi for proliferating with Iran using a DEA database rather than the NSA one that technically would have permitted the search but not the dissemination, and yesterday Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that was all kosher.

But as I noted in this SPCMA piece, the only requirement for accessing EO 12333 data to track Americans is a foreign intelligence purpose.

Additionally, in what would have been true from the start but was made clear in the roll-out, NSA could use this contact chaining for any foreign intelligence purpose. Unlike the PATRIOT-authorized dragnets, it wasn’t limited to al Qaeda and Iranian targets. NSA required only a valid foreign intelligence justification for using this data for analysis.

The primary new responsibility is the requirement:

  • to enter a foreign intelligence (FI) justification for making a query or starting a chain,[emphasis original]

Now, I don’t know whether or not NSA rolled out this program because of problems with the phone and Internet dragnets. But one source of the phone dragnet problems, at least, is that NSA integrated the PATRIOT-collected data with the EO 12333 collected data and applied the protections for the latter authorities to both (particularly with regards to dissemination). NSA basically just dumped the PATRIOT-authorized data in with EO 12333 data and treated it as such. Rolling out SPCMA would allow NSA to use US person data in a dragnet that met the less-restrictive minimization procedures.

That means the government can do chaining under SPCMA for terrorism, counterproliferation, Chinese spying, cyber, or counter-narcotic purposes, among others. I would bet quite a lot of money that when the government “shut down” the DEA dragnet in 2013, they made access rules to SPCMA chaining still more liberal, which is great for the DEA because SPCMA did far more than the DEA dragnet anyway.

So one thing that happened with the Internet dragnet is that it had initial limits on purpose and who could access it. Along the way, NSA cheated those open, by arguing that people in different function areas (like drug trafficking and hacking) might need to help out on counterterrorism. By the end, though, NSA surely realized it loved this dragnet approach and wanted to apply it to all NSA’s functional areas. A key part of the FISC’s decision that such dragnets were appropriate is the special need posed by counterterrorism; while I think they might well buy off on drug trafficking and counterproliferation and hacking and Chinese spying as other special needs, they had not done so before.

The other thing that happened is that, starting in 2008, the government started putting FBI in a more central role in this process, meaning FBI’s promiscuous sharing rules would apply to anything FBI touched first. That came with two benefits. First, the FBI can do back door searches on 702 data (NSA’s ability to do so is much more limited), and it does so even at the assessment level. This basically puts data collected under the guise of foreign intelligence at the fingertips of FBI Agents even when they’re just searching for informants or doing other pre-investigative things.

In addition, the minimization procedures permit the FBI (and CIA) to copy entire metadata databases.

FBI can “transfer some or all such metadata to other FBI electronic and data storage systems,” which seems to broaden access to it still further.

Users authorized to access FBI electronic and data storage systems that contain “metadata” may query such systems to find, extract, and analyze “metadata” pertaining to communications. The FBI may also use such metadata to analyze communications and may upload or transfer some or all such metadata to other FBI electronic and data storage systems for authorized foreign intelligence or law enforcement purposes.

In this same passage, the definition of metadata is curious.

For purposes of these procedures, “metadata” is dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information associated with a communication, but does not include information concerning the substance, purport, or meaning of the communication.

I assume this uses the very broad definition John Bates rubber stamped in 2010, which included some kinds of content. Furthermore, the SMPs elsewhere tell us they’re pulling photographs (and, presumably, videos and the like). All those will also have metadata which, so long as it is not the meaning of a communication, presumably could be tracked as well (and I’m very curious whether FBI treats location data as metadata as well).

Whereas under the old Internet dragnet the data had to stay at NSA, this basically lets FBI copy entire swaths of metadata and integrate it into their existing databases. And, as noted, the definition of metadata may well be broader than even the broadened categories approved by John Bates in 2010 when he restarted the dragnet.

So one big improvement between the old domestic Internet dragnet and SPCMA (and 702 to a lesser degree, and I of course, improvement from a dragnet-loving perspective) is that the government can use it for any foreign intelligence purpose.

At several times during the USA F-ReDux debate, surveillance hawks tried to use the “reform” to expand the acceptable uses of the dragnet. I believe controls on the new system will be looser (especially with regards to emergency searches), but it is, ostensibly at least, limited to counterterrorism.

One way USA F-ReDux will be far more liberal, however, is in dissemination. It’s quite clear that the data returned from queries will go (at least) to FBI, as well as NSA, which means FBI will serve as a means to disseminate it promiscuously from there.


Another thing replacing the Internet dragnet with 702 access does it provide another way to correlate multiple identities, which is critically important when you’re trying to map networks and track all the communication happening within one. Under 702, the government can obtain not just Internet “call records” and the content of that Internet communication from providers, but also the kinds of thing they would obtain with a subpoena (and probably far more). As I’ve shown, here are the kinds of things you’d almost certainly get from Google (because that’s what you get with a few subpoenas) under 702 that you’d have to correlate using algorithms under the old Internet dragnet.

  • a primary gmail account
  • two secondary gmail accounts
  • a second name tied to one of those gmail accounts
  • a backup email (Yahoo) address
  • a backup phone (unknown provider) account
  • Google phone number
  • Google SMS number
  • a primary login IP
  • 4 other IP logins they were tracking
  • 3 credit card accounts
  • Respectively 40, 5, and 11 Google services tied to the primary and two secondary Google accounts, much of which would be treated as separate, correlated identifiers

Every single one of these data points provides a potentially new identity that the government can track on, whereas the old dragnet might only provide an email and IP address associated with one communication. The NSA has a great deal of ability to correlate those individual identifiers, but — as I suspect the Paris attack probably shows — that process can be thwarted somewhat by very good operational security (and by using providers, like Telegram, that won’t be as accessible to NSA collection).

This is an area where the new phone dragnet will be significantly better than the existing phone dragnet, which returns IMSI, IMEI, phone number, and a few other identifiers. But under the new system, providers will be asked to identify “connected” identities, which has some limits, but will nonetheless pull some of the same kind of data that would come back in a subpoena.


While replacing the domestic Internet dragnet with SPCMA provides additional data with which to do correlations, much of that might fall under the category of additional functionality. There are two obvious things that distinguish the old Internet dragnet from what NSA can do under SPCMA, though really the possibilities are endless.

The first of those is content scraping. As the Intercept recently described in a piece on the breathtaking extent of metadata collection, the NSA (and GCHQ) will scrape content for metadata, in addition to collecting metadata directly in transit. This will get you to different kinds of connection data. And particularly in the wake of John Bates’ October 3, 2011 opinion on upstream collection, doing so as part of a domestic dragnet would be prohibitive.

In addition, it’s clear that at least some of the experimental implementations on geolocation incorporated SPCMA data.

I’m particularly interested that one of NSA’s pilot co-traveler programs, CHALKFUN, works with SPCMA.

Chalkfun’s Co-Travel analytic computes the date, time, and network location of a mobile phone over a given time period, and then looks for other mobile phones that were seen in the same network locations around a one hour time window. When a selector was seen at the same location (e.g., VLR) during the time window, the algorithm will reduce processing time by choosing a few events to match over the time period. Chalkfun is SPCMA enabled1.

1 (S//SI//REL) SPCMA enables the analytic to chain “from,” “through,” or “to” communications metadata fields without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants, and users may view those same communications metadata fields in an unmasked form. [my emphasis]

Now, aside from what this says about the dragnet database generally (because this makes it clear there is location data in the EO 12333 data available under SPCMA, though that was already clear), it makes it clear there is a way to geolocate US persons — because the entire point of SPCMA is to be able to analyze data including US persons, without even any limits on their location (meaning they could be in the US).

That means, in addition to tracking who emails and talks with whom, SPCMA has permitted (and probably still does) permit NSA to track who is traveling with whom using location data.

Finally, one thing we know SPCMA allows is tracking on cookies. I’m of mixed opinion on whether the domestic Internet ever permitted this, but tracking cookies is not only nice for understanding someone’s browsing history, it’s probably critical for tracking who is hanging out in Internet forums, which is obviously key (or at least used to be) to tracking aspiring terrorists.

Most of these things shouldn’t be available via the new phone dragnet — indeed, the House explicitly prohibited not just the return of location data, but the use of it by providers to do analysis to find new identifiers (though that is something AT&T does now under Hemisphere). But I would suspect NSA either already plans or will decide to use things like Supercookies in the years ahead, and that’s clearly something Verizon, at least, does keep in the course of doing business.

All of which is to say it’s not just that the domestic Internet dragnet wasn’t all that useful in its current form (which is also true of the phone dragnet in its current form now), it’s also that the alternatives provided far more than the domestic Internet did.

Jim Comey recently said he expects to get more information under the new dragnet — and the apparent addition of another provider already suggests that the government will get more kinds of data (including all cell calls) from more kinds of providers (including VOIP). But there are also probably some functionalities that will work far better under the new system. When the hawks say they want a return of the dragnet, they actually want both things: mandates on providers to obtain richer data, but also the inclusion of all Americans.

It’s Not Just the FISA Court, It’s the Game of Surveillance Whack-a-Mole

In response to this post from Chelsea Manning, the other day I did the first in what seems to have become a series of posts arguing that we should eliminate the FISA Court, but that the question is not simple. In that post, I laid out the tools the FISC has used, with varying degrees of success, in reining in Executive branch spying, especially in times of abuse.

In this post, I want to lay out how reining in surveillance isn’t just about whether the secret approval of warrants and orders would be better done by the FISC or a district court. It’s about whack-a-mole.

That’s because, right now, there are four ways the government gives itself legal cover for expansive surveillance:

  • FISC, increasingly including programs
  • EO 12333, including SPCMA
  • Magistrate warrants and orders without proper briefing
  • Administrative orders and/or voluntary cooperation

FISA Court

The government uses the FISA court to get individualized orders for surveillance in this country and, to a less clear extent, surveillance of Americans overseas. That’s the old-fashioned stuff that could be done by a district court. But it’s also one point where egregious source information — be it a foreign partner using dubious spying techniques, or, as John Brennan admitted in his confirmation hearing, torture — gets hidden. No defendant has ever been able to challenge the basis for the FISA warrant used against them, which is clearly not what Congress said it intended in passing FISA. But given that’s the case, it means a lot of prosecutions that might not pass constitutional muster, because of that egregious source information, get a virgin rebirth in the FISC.

In addition, starting 2004, the government started using the FISA Court to coerce corporations to continue domestic collection programs they had previously done voluntarily. As I noted, while I think the FISC’s oversight of these programs has been mixed, the FISC has forced the government to hew closer (though not at) the law.

EO 12333, including SPCMA

The executive branch considers FISA just a subset of EO 12333, the Reagan Executive Order governing the intelligence community — a carve out of collection requiring more stringent rules. At times, the Intelligence Community have operated as if EO 12333 is the only set of rules they need to follow — and they’ve even secretly rewritten it at least once to change the rules. The government will always assert the right to conduct spying under EO 12333 if it has a technical means to bypass that carve out. That’s what the Bush Administration claimed Stellar Wind operated under. And at precisely the time the FISC was imposing limits on the Internet dragnet, the Executive Brach was authorizing analysis of Americans’ Internet metadata collected overseas under SPCMA.

EO 12333 derived data does get used against defendants in the US, though it appears to be laundered through the FISC and/or parallel constructed, so defendants never get the opportunity to challenge this collection.

Magistrate warrants and orders

Even when the government goes to a Title III court — usually a magistrate judge — to get an order or warrant for surveillance, that surveillance often escapes real scrutiny. We’ve seen this happen with Stingrays and other location collection, as well as FBI hacking; in those cases, the government often didn’t fully brief magistrates about what they’re approving, so the judges didn’t consider the constitutional implications of it. There are exceptions, however (James Orenstein, the judge letting Apple challenge the use of an All Writs Act to force it to unlock a phone, is a notable one), and that has provided periodic checks on collection that should require more scrutiny, as well as public notice of those methods. That’s how, a decade after magistrates first started to question the collection of location data using orders, we’re finally getting circuit courts to review the issue. Significantly, these more exotic spying techniques are often repurposed foreign intelligence methods, meaning you’ll have magistrates and other TIII judges weighing in on surveillance techniques being used in parallel programs under FISA. At least in the case of Internet data, that may even result in a higher standard of scrutiny and minimization being applied to the FISA collection than the criminal investigation collection.

Administrative orders and/or voluntary cooperation

Up until 2006, telecoms willing turned over metadata on Americans’ calls to the government under Stellar Wind. Under Hemisphere, AT&T provides the government call record information — including results of location-based analysis, on all the calls that used its networks, not just AT&T customers — sometimes without an order. For months after Congress was starting to find a way to rein in the NSA phone dragnet with USA Freedom Act, the DEA continued to operate its own dragnet of international calls that operated entirely on administrative orders. Under CISA, the government will obtain and disseminate information on cybersecurity threats that it wouldn’t be able to do under upstream 702 collection; no judge will review that collection. Until 2009, the government was using NSLs to get all the information an ISP had on a user or website, including traffic information. AT&T still provides enhanced information, including the call records of friends and family co-subscribers and (less often than in the past) communities of interest.

These six examples make it clear that, even with Americans, even entirely within the US, the government conducts a lot of spying via administrative orders and/or voluntary cooperation. It’s not clear this surveillance had any but internal agency oversight, and what is known about these programs (the onsite collaboration that was probably one precursor to Hemisphere, the early NSL usage) makes it clear there have been significant abuses. Moreover, a number of these programs represent individual (the times when FBI used an NSL to get something the FISC had repeatedly refused to authorize under a Section 215 order) or programmatic collection (I suspect, CISA) that couldn’t be approved under the auspices of the FISC.

All of which is to say the question of what to do to bring better oversight over expansive surveillance is not limited to the short-comings of the FISC.  It also must contend with the way the government tends to move collection programs when one method proves less than optimal. Where technologically possible, it has moved spying offshore and conducted it under EO 12333. Where it could pay or otherwise bribe and legally shield providers, it moved to voluntary collection. Where it needed to use traditional courts, it often just obfuscated about what it was doing. The primary limits here are not legal, except insofar as legal niceties and the very remote possibility of transparency raise corporate partner concerns.

We need to fix or eliminate the FISC. But we need to do so while staying ahead of the game of whack-a-mole.

Could Corporations Include CISA Non-Participation in Transparency Reports? Would It Even Mean Anything?

I confess I don’t know the answer to this question, but I’m going to pose it anyway. Could companies report non-participation in CISA — or whatever the voluntary cyber information sharing program that will soon roll out is eventually called — in their transparency reports?

I ask in part because there’s great uncertainty about whether tech companies support or oppose the measure. The Business Software Alliance suggested they supported a data sharing bill, until Fight for the Future made a stink, when at least some of them pulled off (while a number of other BSA members, like Adobe, IBM, and Siemens, will surely embrace the bill). A number of companies have opposed CISA, either directly (like Apple) or via the Computer and Communications Industry Association. But even Google, which is a CCIA member, still wants a way to share information even if they express concerns about CISA’s current form. Plus, there some indication that some of the companies claiming to oppose CISA — most notably, Facebook — are secretly lobbying in favor of it.

In the wake of CISA passing, activists are wondering if companies would agree not to participate (because participation is, as Richard Burr reminded over and over, voluntary, even if the key voluntary participants will also be bidding on a $50 billion contract as CISA rolls out). But I’m not sure what that would even mean.

So, first, would companies legally be permitted to claim in their transparency reports that they did not voluntarily participate in CISA? There are a lot of measures that prohibit the involuntary release of information about companies’ voluntary participation in CISA. But nothing in the bill that seems to prohibit the voluntary release of information about companies’ voluntary non-participation.

But even if a company made such a claim — or claimed that they only share cyber indicators with legal process — would it even be meaningful? Consider: Most of the companies that might make such a claim get hacked. Even Apple, the company that has taken the lead on pushing back against the government, has faced a series of attacks and/or vulnerabilities of late, both in its code and its app store. Both any disclosures it made to the Federal government and to its app vendors would be covered by CISA unless Apple deliberately disclosed that information outside the terms of CISA — for example, by deliberately leaving personally identifiable information in any code it shared, which it’s not about to do. Apple will enjoy the protections in CISA whether it asked for them or not. I can think of just two ways to avoid triggering the protections of CISA: either to only report such vulnerabilities as a crime report to FBI (which, because it bypassed the DHS, would not get full protection, and which would be inappropriate for most kinds of vulnerability disclosures), or to publicly disclose everything to the public. And that’s assuming there aren’t more specific disclosures — such as attempts to attack specific iCloud accounts — that would legitimately be intelligence reports. Google tells users if they think state actors are trying to compromise their accounts; is this appropriate to share with the government without process? Moreover, most of the companies that would voluntarily not participate already have people with clearance who can and do receive classified intelligence from the government. Plus, these companies can’t choose not to let their own traffic that transits communications backbone be scanned by the backbone owners.

In other words, I’m not sure how a company can claim not to participate in CISA once it goes into effect unless it doesn’t share any information. And most of the big tech companies are already sharing this information among themselves, they want to continue to do that sharing, and that sharing would get CISA protections.

The problem is, there are a number of kinds of information sharing that will get the permission of CISA, all of which would count as “participating in it.” Anything Apple shared with the government or other companies would get CISA protection. But that’s far different than taking a signature the government shares and scanning all backbone traffic for instances of it, which is what Verizon and AT&T will almost certainly be doing under CISA. That is, there are activities that shouldn’t require legal process, and activities that currently do but will not under CISA. And to get a meaningful sense of whether someone is “participating” in CISA by performing activities that otherwise would require legal process, you’d need a whole lot of details about what they were doing, details that not even criminal defendants will ever get. You’d even need to distinguish activities companies would do on their own accord (Apple’s own scans of its systems for known vulnerabilities) from things that came pursuant to information received from the federal government (a scan on a vulnerability Apple learned about from the government).

We’re never going to get that kind of information from a transparency report, except insofar as companies detail the kinds of things they require legal process for in spite of CISA protection for doing them without legal process. That would not be the same thing as non-participation in CISA — because, again, most of the companies that have raised objections already share information at least with industry partners. But that’s about all we’d get short of really detailed descriptions of any scrubbing that goes on during such information sharing.

What’s a Little (or a Lot) Cooperation Among Spies?

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 8.33.46 PMA key point in the ProPublica/NYT piece on AT&T’s close cooperation with the NSA (and, though not stated explicitly, other agencies) on spying is that AT&T was the telecom that helped NSA spy on the UN.

It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.

If you read the underlying document, it actually shows that NSA had a traditional FISA order requiring the cooperation (remember, “agents of foreign powers,” as diplomats are, are among the legal wiretap targets under FISA, no matter what we might think about NSA spying on UN in our own country) — meaning whatever telecom serviced the UN legally had to turn over the data. And a big part of AT&T’s cooperation, in addition to technically improving data quality, involved filtering the data to help NSA avoid overload.

BLARNEY began intermittent enablement  of DNI traffic for TOPI assessment and feedback. This feedback is being used by the BLARNEY target development team to support an ongoing filtering and throttling of data volumes. While BLARNEY is authorized full-take access under the NSA FISA, collected data volumes would flood PINWALE allocations within hours without a robust filtering mechanism.

In other words, AT&T helped NSA, ironically, by helping it limit what data it took in. Arguably, that’s an analytical role (who builds the algorithms in the filter?), but it’s one that limits how much actually gets turned over to the government.

That doesn’t mean the cooperation was any less valued, nor does it mean it didn’t go beyond what AT&T was legally obliged to do under the FISA order. But it’s not evidence AT&T would wiretap a non-legal (private corporation) target as a favor for NSA. That evidence may exist, somewhere, but it’s not in this story, except insofar as it mentions Stellar Wind, where AT&T was doing such things.

To be fair, AT&T’s UN cooperation is actually emphasized in this story because it was a key data point in the worthwhile ProPublica piece explaining how they proved Fairview was AT&T.

In April 2012, an internal NSA newsletter boasted about a successful operation in which NSA spied on the United Nations headquarters in New York City with the help of its Fairview and Blarney programs. Blarney is a program that undertakes surveillance that is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

FAIRVIEW and BLARNEY engineers collaborated to enable the delivery of 700Mbps of paired packet switched traffic (DNI) traffic from access to an OC192 ring serving the United Nations mission in New York … FAIRVIEW engineers and the partner worked to provide the correct mapping, and BLARNEY worked with the partner to correct data quality issues so the data could be handed off to BLARNEY engineers to enable processing of the DNI traffic.

We found historical records showing that AT&T was paid $1 million a year to operate the U.N.’s fiber optic provider in 2011 and 2012. A spokesman for the U.N. secretary general confirmed that the organization “has a current contract with AT&T” to operate the fiber optic network at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

That is, the UN story is important largely because there are public records proving that AT&T was the provider in question, not because it’s the most egregious example of AT&T’s solicitous relationship with the nation’s spies.

Also in that story proving how they determined Fairview was AT&T and Stormbrew included Verizon was the slide above, bragging that the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative 100% subsidized Verizon’s Breckenridge site at a new cable landing carrying traffic from China.

It’s not entirely clear what that means — it might just refer to the SCIF, power supply, and servers needed to run the TURMOIL (that is, passive filtering) deployments the NSA wanted to track international traffic with China. But as ProPublica lays out, the NSA was involved the entire time Verizon was planning this cable landing. Another document on CNCI shows that in FY2010 — while significantly less than AT&T’s Fairview — NSA was dumping over $100M into Stormbrew and five times as much money into “cyber” than on FISA (in spite of the fact that they admit they’re really doing all this cybering to catch attacks on the US, meaning it has to ostensibly be conducted under FISA, even if FISC had not yet and may never have approved a cyber certificate for upstream 702). And those numbers date to the year after the Breckenridge project was put on line, and at a time when Verizon was backing off an earlier closer relationship with the Feds.

How much did Verizon really get for that cable landing, what did they provide in exchange, and given that this was purpose-built to focus on Chinese hacking 6 years ago, why is China still eating our lunch via hacking? And if taxpayers are already subsidizing Verizon 100% for capital investments, why are we still paying our cell phone bills?

Particularly given the clear focus on cyber at this cable landing, I recall the emphasis on Department of Commerce when discussing the government’s partnership with industry in PPD-20, covering authorizations for various cyber activities, including offensive cyberwar (note the warning I gave for how Americans would start to care about this Snowden disclosure once our rivals, like China, retaliate). That is, the government has Commerce use carrots and sticks to get cooperation from corporations, especially on cybersecurity.

None of this changes the fact that AT&T has long been all too happy to spy on its customers for the government. It just points to how little we know about these relationships, and how much quid pro quo there really is. We know from PRISM discussions that the providers could negotiate how they accomplished an order (as AT&T likely could with the order to wiretap the UN), and that’s one measure of “cooperation.” But there’s a whole lot else to this kind of cooperation.

Update: Credo released a statement in response to the story.

As a telecom that can be compelled to participate in unconstitutional surveillance, we know how important it is to fight for our customers’ privacy and only hand over information related to private communications when required by law,” said CREDO Mobile Vice President Becky Bond. “It’s beyond disturbing though sadly not surprising what’s being reported about a secret government relationship with AT&T that NSA documents describe as ‘highly collaborative’ and a ‘partnership, not a contractual relationship,’

CREDO Mobile supports full repeal of the illegal surveillance state as the only way to protect Americans from illegal government spying,” Bond continued, “and we challenge AT&T to demonstrate concern for its customers’ constitutional rights by joining us in public support of repealing both the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act.

AT&T Pulled Cell Location for Its “Mobility Cell Data”

ProPublica and NYT have an important story that confirms what we’ve long known — that AT&T, operating under the Fairview program — is all too happy to do business with the NSA. As part of the story, they note that in 2011, AT&T started providing cell data to NSA under the BR FISA program.

In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the NSA after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11,” according to an internal agency newsletter. This revelation is striking because after Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.

They base the claim on this document, which reads,

On 29 August, FAIRVIEW started delivering Mobility Business Records traffic into MAINWAY under the existing Business Record (BR) FISA authorization. The intent of the Business Records FISA program is to detect previously unknown terrorist threats in the United States through the cell chaining of metadata. This new metadata flow is associated with a cell phone provider and will generate an estimated 1.1 billion cellular records a day in addition to the 700M records delivered currently under the BR FISA. After extensive dialogue with the consumers of the BR data, repeated testing, a push to get this flow operational prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and extensive coordination with external entities via our OGC (to include: FBI, DOJ, ODNI, and FISC) NSA received approval to initiate this dataflow on August 29, 2011. Analysts have already reported seeing BR Cellular records in the Counter Terrorism call-chaining database queries.

Though it provides important new context, that NSA started receiving mobile data on August 29, 2011 is not new news (though that it was getting it from AT&T is). The government released the notice it gave to the House Judiciary Committee that it was receiving that data in October 2013 under FOIA (indeed, this document is one I have pointed to to refute claims that the program didn’t collect cell data).

All that said, the notice, taken together with the context of the internal announcement, does explain more about why the NSA wasn’t getting as much cell data as they wanted.

In the case of Fairview and the collection started on August 29, 2011, the provider “remove[d] the cell [redacted] location information [redacted] before providing the CDRs to NSA.”

Before initiating the acquisition of mobility data, NSA undertook extensive testing to ensure strict compliance with the terms of the FISC Orders. The Court’s Orders are designed to protect the civil liberties and privacy interests of Americans. Following completion of testing, on 29 August 2011, NSA began to receive approximately [redacted] CDRs per day and enter these records into our BR FISA bulk metadata architecture.

[redacted] NSA requested that the [redacted] remove the cell [redacted] location information [redacted] before providing the CDRs to NSA. Consequently, NSA is not currently receiving this field as part of the data being acquired. [redacted]

As the NYT reported earlier this week, NSA had given Verizon Wireless a separate order for phone dragnet order in 2010. But the redaction in the notice to Congress on obtaining mobility data from a year later seems to address the problem with obtaining location information.

We know from the Congressional notice AT&T was willing to strip it. For a lot of reasons, it’s likely Verizon was unwilling to strip it.

This is one of the possible explanations I’ve posited for why NSA wasn’t getting cell data from Verizon, because any provider is only obliged to give business records they already have on hand, and it would be fairly easy to claim stripping the cell location data made it a new business record.

Which is another important piece of evidence for the case made against AT&T in the story. They were willing to play with records they were handing over to the government in ways not required by the law.

Though who knows if that remain(ed) the case? To get to the 30% figure quoted in all the pieces claiming NSA wasn’t getting cell data, you’d probably have to have AT&T excluded as well. So maybe after the Snowden releases, they, too, refused to do things they weren’t required to do by law (though because it had the Hemisphere database which could easily select records, that may have been harder to do).

Update: Adding that FISC took judicial notice of some magistrates’ rulings you needed more than a subpoena for location data in 2006, after Congress said you could only get what you could get with a subpoena in the 2006 PATRIOT Reauthorization. So it’s possible any squeamishness about location collection dates to that point, though we know FISC did still permit the government to get location data with 215 orders.

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