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Why DOJ Withheld the Correlations Opinion: The DC Circuit’s Mosaic

On January 9, 2014, the government appealed Judge Richard Leon’s decision finding the phone dragnet in Klayman v. Obama to the DC Circuit.

The DC Circuit, of course, is the court that issued US. v Maynard in 2010, the first big court decision backing a mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment. And while the panel that ultimately heard the Klayman appeal included two judges who voted to have the entire circuit review Maynard, the circuit precedent in Maynard includes the following statement.

As with the “mosaic theory” often invoked by the Government in cases involving national security information, “What may seem trivial to the uninformed, may appear of great moment to one who has a broad view of the scene.” CIA v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 178 (1985) (internal quotation marks deleted); see J. Roderick MacArthur Found. v. F.B.I., 102 F.3d 600, 604 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Prolonged surveillance reveals types of information not revealed by short-term surveillance, such as what a person does repeatedly, what he does not do, and what he does ensemble. These types of information can each reveal more about a person than does any individual trip viewed in isolation. Repeated visits to a church, a gym, a bar, or a bookie tell a story not told by any single visit, as does one‘s not visiting any of these places over the course of a month. The sequence of a person‘s movements can reveal still more; a single trip to a gynecologist‘s office tells little about a woman, but that trip followed a few weeks later by a visit to a baby supply store tells a different story.* A person who knows all of another‘s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.

With that precedent, the DC Circuit is a particularly dangerous court for the Administration to review a dragnet that aspires to collect all Americans’ call records and hold them for 5 years.

On March 31, 2014, the government submitted a motion for summary judgment in EFF’s FOIA for Section 215 documents with an equivalent to the ACLU. One of the only things the government specifically withheld — on the grounds that it described a dragnet analysis technique it was still using — was an August 20, 2008 FISC opinion authorizing the technique in question, which it did not name.

Two days before FISC issued that August 20, 2008 opinion, the NSA was explaining to the court how it made correlations between identifiers to contact chain on all those identifiers. Two days is about what we’ve seen for final applications before the FISC rules on issues, to the extent we’ve seen dates, suggesting the opinion is likely about correlations.

Here’s how the government described correlations, in various documents submitted to the court in 2009.

They define what a correlated address is (and note, this passage, as well as other passages, do not limit correlations to telephone metadata — indeed, the use of “address” suggests correlations include Internet identifiers).

The analysis of SIGINT relies on many techniques to more fully understand the data. One technique commonly used is correlated selectors. A communications address, or selector, is considered correlated with other communications addresses when each additional address is shown to identify the same communicant as the original address.

They describe how the NSA establishes correlations via many means, but primarily through one particular database.

NSA obtained [redacted] correlations from a variety of sources to include Intelligence Community reporting, but the tool that the analysts authorized to query the BR FISA metadata primarily used to make correlations is called [redacted].

[redacted] — a database that holds correlations [redacted] between identifiers of interest, to include results from [redacted] was the primary means by which [redacted] correlated identifiers were used to query the BR FISA metadata.

They make clear that NSA treated all correlated identifiers as RAS approved so long as one identifier from that user was RAS approved.

In other words, if there: was a successful RAS determination made on any one of the selectors in the correlation, all were considered .AS-a. ,)roved for purposes of the query because they were all associated with the same [redacted] account

And they reveal that until February 6, 2009, this tool provided “automated correlation results to BR FISA-authorized analysts.” While the practice was shut down in February 2009, the filings make clear NSA intended to get the automated correlation functions working again,

While it’s unclear whether this screen capture describes the specific database named behind the redactions in the passages above, it appears to describe an at-least related process of identifying all the equivalent identities for a given target (in this case to conduct a hack, but it can be used for many applications).


If I’m right that the August 20, 2008 memo describes this correlations process, it means one of the things the government decided to withhold from EFF and ACLU (who joined Klayman as amici) after deciding to challenge Leon’s decision in a court with a precedent of recognizing a mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment was a document that shows the government creates a mosaic of all these dragnets.

It’s not just a phone dragnet (and it’s not just US collected phone records). It’s a domestic and internationally-collected phone and Internet and other metadata dragnet, and after that point, if it sucks you into that dragnet, it’s a financial record and other communications dragnet as well (for foreigners, I imagine, you get sucked in first, without an interim stage).

Even though both Janice Rogers Brown and David Sentelle voted to reconsider the mosaic theory in 2010, Sentelle’s questions seemed to reflect a real concern about it. Unsurprisingly, given that he authored a fairly important opinion in US v Quartavious Davis holding that the government needed a warrant to get stored cell site location data while he was out on loan to the 11th Circuit earlier this year, his questions focused on location.

Sentelle: What information if any is gathered about the physical location of wireless callers, if anything? Cell tower type information.

Thomas Byron: So Judge Sentelle, what is not included. Cell tower information is not included in this metadata and that’s made clear in the FISC orders.  The courts have specified that it’s not included.

Note how Byron specified that “cell tower information is not included in this metadata”? Note how he also explains that the FISC has specified that CSLI is not included, without explaining that that’s only been true for 15 months (meaning that there may still be incidentally collected CSLI in the databases). Alternately, if the NSA gets cell location from the FBI’s PRTT program (my well-educated guess is that the FBI’s unexplained dragnet – the data from which it shares with the NSA — is a Stingray program), then that data would get analyzed along with the call records tied to the same phones, though it’s not clear that this location data would be available from the known but dated metadata access, which is known only to include Internet, and EO 12333 and BRFISA phone metadata).

Stephen Williams seemed even more concerned with the Maynard precedent, raising it specifically, and using it to express concern about the government stashing 5 years of phone records.

Williams: Does it make a significant difference that these data are collected for a five year period.

Byron’s response was particularly weak on this point, trying to claim that the government’s 90-day reauthorizations made the 5 years of data that would seem to be clearly unacceptable under Maynard (which found a problem with one week of GPS data) acceptable.

Byron: It’s not clear in the record of this case how much time the telephone companies keep the data but the point is that there’s a 90 day period during which the FISC orders are operative and require the telephone companies to turn over the information from their records to the government for purposes of this program. Now the government may retain it for five years but that’s not the same as asking whether the telephone company must keep it for five years.

Williams: How can we discard the five year period that the government keeps it?

Williams also, later, asked about what kind of identities are involved, which would also go to the heart of the way the government correlates identities (and should warrant questions about whether the government is obtaining Verizon’s supercookie).

Byron expressed incredible (as in, not credible) ignorance about how long the phone companies keep this data; only AT&T keeps its data that long. Meaning the government is hoarding records well beyond what users should have an expectation the third party in question would hoard the data, which ought to eliminate the third party justification by itself.

Janice Rogers Brown mostly seemed to want things to be easy, one bright line that cops could use to determine what they could and could not obtain. Still, she was the only one to raise the other kinds of data the government might obtain.

JRB: Does it matter to whom the record has been conveyed. For instance, medical records? That would be a third party’s record but could you draw the same line.

Byron: Judge Brown, I’m glad you mentioned this because it’s really important to recognize in the context of medical records just as in the context, by the way, of telephone records, wiretap provisions, etcetera, Congress has acted to protect privacy in all of these areas. For example, following the Miller case, Congress passed a statute governing the secrecy of bank records. Following the Smith case, Congress passed a statute governing wiretaps. HIPAA, in your example, Judge Brown, would govern the restrictions, would impose restrictions on the proper use of medical information. So too here, FISA imposes requirements that are then enforced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And those protections are essential to understanding the program and the very limited intrusion on any privacy interest.

While Byron had a number of very misleading answers, this probably aggravated me the most. After all, the protections that Congress created after the Miller case and the Smith case were secretly overridden by the FISC in 2008 and 2010, when it said limitations under FISA extended for NSLs could also be extended for 215 orders. And we have every reason the government could, if not has, obtained medical records if not actual DNA using a Section 215 order; I believe both would fall under a national security exception to HIPAA. Thus, whatever minimization procedures FISC might impose, it has, at the same time blown off precisely the guidelines imposed by Congress.

The point is, all three judges seemed to be thinking — to a greater or lesser extent — of this in light of the Maynard precedent, Williams particularly so. And yet because the government hid the most important useful evidence about how they use correlations (though admittedly the plaintiffs could have submitted the correlations data, especially in this circuit), the legal implications of this dragnet being tied to other phone and Internet dragnets and from there more generalized dragnets never got discussed.

Don’t get me wrong. Larry Klayman likely doomed this appeal in any case. On top of being overly dramatic (which I think the judges would have tolerated), he misstated at least two things. For example, he claimed violations reported at the NSA generally happened in this program alone. He didn’t need to do that. He could have noted that 3,000 people were dragnetted in 2009 without the legally required First Amendment review. He could have noted 3,000 files of phone dragnet data were not destroyed in timely fashion, apparently because techs were using the real data on a research server. The evidence to show this program has been — in the past at least — violative even of the FISC’s minimization requirements is available.

Klayman also claimed the government was collecting location data. He got caught, like a badly prepared school child, scrambling for the reference to location in Ed Felten’s declaration, which talked about trunk location rather than CSLI.

In substantive form, I don’t think those were worse than Byron’s bad evasions … just more painful.

All that said, all these judges — Williams in particular — seemed to want to think of this in terms of how it fit in a mosaic. On that basis, the phone dragnet should be even more unsustainable than it already is. And some of that evidence is in the public record, and should have been submitted into the record here.

Still, what may be the most important part of the record was probably withheld, by DOJ, after DOJ decided it was going to appeal in a circuit where that information would have been centrally important.

The Klayman Hearing: Everyone Can Stand If DOJ Has the Backbone

Update: See this post, which explains that I’m wrong about the timing of Verizon’s different approach to production than AT&T. And that difference precedes Verizon’s withdrawal from the FBI call record program in 2009 — it goes back to 2007.

I’m finally getting around to listening to the Klayman v. Obama hearing from the other day, which you can listen to here. I’ll have more to say on it later. But my impression is that — because of the incomplete reporting of a bunch of NSA beat reporters — Klayman may be improperly thrown out on standing because he is only a Verizon cell customer, not a Verizon landline customer.

Back on June 14, 2013, the WSJ reported that Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile don’t turn over records under the phone dragnet, but that the government obtains those records anyway as they travel across the domestic backbone, largely owned by AT&T and Verizon Business Services.

The National Security Agency’s controversial data program, which seeks to stockpile records on all calls made in the U.S., doesn’t collect information directly from T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, in part because of their foreign ownership ties, people familiar with the matter said.

The blind spot for U.S. intelligence is relatively small, according to a U.S. official. Officials believe they can still capture information, or metadata, on 99% of U.S. phone traffic because nearly all calls eventually travel over networks owned by U.S. companies that work with the NSA.


Much of the U.S.’s telecom backbone is owned by two companies: AT&T and Verizon Business Network Services Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Verizon Communications that it views as a separate network from its mobile business. It was the Verizon subsidiary that was named in the FISA warrant leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper and revealed last week.

When a T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless call is made, it often must travel over one of these networks, requiring the carrier to pay the cable owner. The information related to that transaction—such as the phone numbers involved and length of call—is recorded and can then be passed to the NSA through its existing relationships.

Then, on February 7, 2014, the WSJ (and 3 other outlets) reported something entirely different — that the phone dragnet only collects around 20% of phone records (others reported the number to be a higher amount).

The National Security Agency’s collection of phone data, at the center of the controversy over U.S. surveillance operations, gathers information from about 20% or less of all U.S. calls—much less than previously thought, according to people familiar with the NSA program.

The program had been described as collecting records on almost every phone call placed in the U.S. But, in fact, it doesn’t collect records for most cellphones, the fastest-growing sector in telephony and an area where the agency has struggled to keep pace, the people said.

Over the course of 8 months, the WSJ’s own claim went from the government collecting 99% of phone data (defined as telephony) to the government collecting 20% (probably defining “call data” broadly to include VOIP), without offering an explanation of what changed. And it was not just its own earlier reporting with which WSJ conflicted; aspects of it also conflicted with a lot of publicly released primary documents about what the program has done in the past. Nevertheless, there was remarkably little interest in explaining the discrepancy.

I’m getting a lot closer to being able to explain the discrepancy in WSJ’s reporting. And if I’m right, then Larry Klayman should have standing (though I’m less certain about Anna Smith, who is appealing a suit in the 9th Circuit).

I’m fairly certain (let me caveat: I think this is the underlying dynamic; the question is the timing) the discrepancy arises from the fact that, for the first time ever, on July 19, 2013 (a month after the WSJ’s first report) the FISA Court explicitly prohibited the collection of Cell Site Location Information.

Furthermore, this Order does not authorize the production of cell site location information (CSLI).

We’ve learned several details since February that puts this in context.

First, the NSL IG Report revealed that one of the three providers who had been part of FBI’s onsite call records access from 2003 to 2006 did not renew the contract for that program in 2009.

Company A, Company B, and Company C are the three telephone carriers described in our Exigent Letters Report that provided telephone records to the TCAU in response to exigent letters and other informal requests between 2003 and 2006. As described in our Exigent Letters Report, the FBI entered into contracts with these carriers in 2003 and 2004, which required that the communication service providers place their employees in the TCAU’s office space and give these employees access to their companies’ databases so they could immediately service FBI requests for telephone records. Exigent Letters Report, 20. As described in the next chapter, TCAU no longer shares office space with the telephone providers. Companies A and C continue to serve FBI requests for telephone records and provide the records electronically to the TCAU. Company B did not renew its contract with the FBI in 2009 and is no longer providing telephone records directly to the TCAU. Company B continues to provide telephone records in response to NSL requests issued directly by the field without TCAU’s assistance.

The original WSJ, in retrospect, makes it fairly clear that Company B is Verizon (though I believe it provides the wrong explanation otherwise for Verizon’s inability to provide records, that it was partly foreign owned–though admittedly it only claims to be providing part of the explanation).

Unlike Sprint and AT&T, [Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile] also don’t perform classified work for the government. Such contracts require secure facilities that make cooperating with NSA programs simpler, people familiar with the matter said.

Verizon Associate General Counsel Michael Woods’ response to questions at a hearing earlier this year made it even more clear. He said that Verizon does not keep call detail records — as distinct from billing records — long at all (and they only keep billing records on the landline side for 18 months).

The contract with TCAU, the NSL IG Report (and the earlier Exigent Letters report) makes clear, would require providers to keep records for longer to facilitate some bells and whistles. That’s a big part of what the “make cooperating with NSA programs simpler” is likely about. Therefore, Verizon must be the provider that stopped retaining records in 2009 for the purpose of the government (It also just so happens to be the provider that doesn’t need the government cash as part of its business model). I suspect that TCAU remains closely related to Hemisphere, which may be why when I asked FBI about its participation in that unclassified project, FBI refused to comment at all.

If all that’s right, then AT&T and Sprint retain their call detail records because they have signed a contract with the government to do so. Verizon does not.

That means, at least since 2009, Verizon has been relying on actual call detail records to fulfill its obligations under Section 215, not a database that makes it easier to pull out precisely what the government wants (indeed, I suspect the end of the contract created the problems where Verizon was providing entirely foreign calls along with its domestic calls starting with the May 29, 2009 order).  The business records that Verizon had on hand was a CDR that, in the case of cell phones, necessarily included CSLI.

Verizon is still (the Verizon-specific language remains in the dragnet orders, and they challenged the first order after Leon’s decision in this case) providing records of landline calls that traverse its backbone.

But when FISC made it a violation — rather than just overproduction they otherwise would have and have, in both this and other programs, approved — to provide CSLI, and made that public, it gave Verizon the opportunity to say it had no way to provide the cell data legally.

That’s sort of what the later WSJ report says, though it doesn’t explain why this would be limited in time or why NSA would have a problem when it collects CDRs internationally with CSLI with no problem.

Moreover, the NSA has been stymied by how to remove location data—which it isn’t allowed to collect without getting additional court approval—from U.S. cellphone records collected in bulk, a U.S. official said.

I’m not sure whether it’s the case that Verizon couldn’t very easily pull that CSLI off or not. But I do suspect — particularly for a program that offers no compensation — that Verizon no longer had a legal obligation to. (This probably answers, by the way, how AT&T and Sprint are getting paid here: they’re being paid to keep their CDRs under the old TCAU contracts with the FBI.)

The government repeats over and over that they’re only getting business records the companies already have. Verizon has made it clear it doesn’t have cell call detail records without the location attached. And therefore, I suspect, the government lost its ability to make Verizon comply. That is also why, I suspect, the President claims he needs new legislation to make this happen: because he needs language forcing the providers to provide the CDRs in the form the government wants it in.

If I’m right, though – that the government had 99% coverage of telephony until Claire Eagan specifically excluded cell location – then Klayman should have standing. That’s because Richard Leon’s injunction not only prohibited the government from collecting any new records from Klayman, he also required the government to “destroy any such metadata in its possession that was collected through the bulk collection program.”

Assuming Verizon just stopped providing cell data in 2013 pursuant to Eagan’s order, then there would still be over 3 years of call records in the government’s possession available for search. Which would mean he would still be exposed to the government’s improper querying of his records.

It is certainly possible that Verizon stopped providing cell data once it ended its TCAU contact in 2009. If that’s the case, the government’s hasty destruction of call records in March would probably have eliminated the last of the data it had on Klayman (though not on ACLU, since ACLU is a landline customer as well as a wireless customer).

But if Verizon just stopped handing over cell records in 2013 after Claire Eagan made it impossible for the government to force Verizon to comply with such orders, then Klayman — and everyone else whose records transited Verizon’s backbone — should still have standing.

Update: I provided this further explanation to someone via email.

I should have said this more clearly in the post. But the only way everyone is correct: including WSJ in June, Claire Eagan’s invocation of “substantially all” in July, the PRG’s claims they weren’t getting as much as thought in December, and WSJ’s claims they weren’t much at all in February, is if Verizon shut down cell collection sometime during that period. The July order and the aftermath would explain that.

I suspect the number is now closer to 50-60% of US based telephony records within the US (remember, on almost all international traffic, there should be near duplication, because they’re collecting that at scale offshore), but there’s also VOIP and other forms of “calls” and texts that they’re not getting, which is how you get down to the intentionally alarmist 20%. One reason I think Comey’s going after Apple is because iMessage is being carved out, and Verizon is already pissed, so he needs to find a way to ensure that Apple doesn’t get a competitive advantage over Verizon by going through WiFi that may not be available to Verizon because it is itself the backbone. But if you lose both Verizon’s cell traffic AND any cell traffic they carry, you lose a ton of traffic.
That gets you to the import of the FBI contract. It is a current business purpose of AT&T and Sprint to create a database that they can charge the FBI to use to do additional searching, including location data and burner phones and the like. AT&T’s version of this is probably Hemisphere right now (thus, in FBI-speak, TCAU would be Hemisphere), meaning they also get DEA and other agencies to pay for it. In that business purpose, the FBI is a customer of AT&T and Sprint’s business decision to create its own version of the NSA’s database, including all its calls as well as things like location data the FBI can get so on individualized basis.
Verizon used to choose to pursue this business (this is the significance, I think, of the government partially relying on a claim to voluntary production, per Kris). In 2009, they changed their business approach and stopped doing that. So they no longer have a business need to create and keep a database of all its phone records.
What they do still have are SS7 routing records of all traffic on their backbone, which they need to route calls through their networks (which is what AT&T uses to build their database). That’s the business record they use to respond to their daily obligations.
But there seem to be two likely reasons why the FISC can’t force Verizon to alter those SS7 records, stripping the CSLI before delivering it to the government. First, there is no means to compensate the providers under Section 215. That clearly indicates Congress had no plan to ask providers to provide all their records on a daily basis. But without compensation, you can’t ask the providers to do a lot of tweaking.
The other problem is if you’re asking the providers to create a record, then you’re getting away from the Third Party doctrine, aren’t you? In any case, the government and judges have repeated over and over, they can only get existing business records the providers already have. Asking Verizon to do a bunch to tweak those records turns it into a database that Verizon has created not for its own business purpose, but to fulfill the government’s spying demands.
I think this is the underlying point of Woods’ testimony where he made it clear Verizon had no intent of playing Intelligence agent for the government. Verizon seems to have made it very clear they will challenge any order to go back into the spying for the government business (all the more so after losing some German business because of too-close ties to the USG). And since Verizon is presumably now doing this for relatively free (since 2009, as opposed to AT&T and Sprint, who are still getting paid via their FBI contract), the government has far less ability to make demands.
This is also where I think the cost from getting complete coverage comes from. You have to pay provider sufficiently such that they are really doing the database-keeping voluntarily, which presumably gets it well beyond reasonable cost compensation.
Update: One final point (and it’s a point William Ockham made a billion years ago). The foreign data problem Verizon had starting in 2009 would be completely consistent with a shift from database production to SS7 production, because SS7 records are going to have everything that transits the circuit.

The Last Time NSA Submitted Secret Authorities, It Was Actively Hiding Illegal Wiretapping

Via Mike Masnick, I see that in addition to submitting a new state secrets declaration and a filing claiming EFF’s clients in Jewel v. NSA don’t have standing, the government also submitted a secret supplemental brief on its statement of authorities, which EFF has challenged.

The secret supplemental brief is interesting given the government’s outrageous state secrets claim in the lawsuit against United Against a Nuclear Iran, in which it refuses to explain why it must protect the intelligence sources and methods of an allegedly independent NGO. It seems the government’s state secrets claims are getting even more outrageous than they already were.

That’s particularly interesting given what appears to be the outlines of a claim that if the court recognizes Jewel’s standing, then all hell will break loose.

Due to the failings of Plaintiffs’ evidence described above, the Court need not consider the impact of the state secrets privilege on the standing issue. However, if the Court were to find Plaintiffs’ declarations admissible and sufficiently probative of Plaintiffs’ standing to raise a genuine issue meriting further inquiry (which it should not), adjudication f the standing issue could not proceed without risking exceptionally grave damage to national security (a threshold issue on which the Court requested briefing). That is so because operational details of Upstream collection that are subject to the DNI’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in this case are necessary to address Plaintiffs’ theory of standing. The Government presented this evidence to the Court in the DNI’s and NSA’s classified declarations of December 20, 2013, and supplements it with the Classified Declaration of Miriam P., NSA, submitted in camera, ex parte, herewith. Disclosure of this evidence would risk informing our Nation’s adversaries of the operational details of the NSA’s Upstream collection, including the identities of electronic-communications-service providers assisting with Upstream collection.

Behind these claims of grave harm are the reality that if US persons started to get standing under the dragnet, then under John Bates’ rules (in which illegal wiretapping is only illegal if the government knows US persons are targeted), the entire program would become illegal. So I suspect the government is ultimately arguing that Jewel can’t have standing because it would make the entire program illegal (which is sort of the point!).

But the biggest reason I’m intrigued by the government’s sneaky filing is because of what happened the last time it submitted such a sneaky filing.

I laid out in this post how a state secrets filing submitted in EFF’s related Shubert lawsuit by Keith Alexander on October 30, 2009 demonstrably lied. Go back and read it–it’s a good one. A lot of what I show involves Alexander downplaying the extent of the phone dragnet problems.

But we now know more about how much more Alexander was downplaying in that declaration.

As I show in this working thread, it is virtually certain that on September 30, 2009, Reggie Walton signed this order, effectively shutting down the Internet dragnet (I’m just now noticing that ODNI did not — as it has with the other FISC dragnet orders — release a copy with the timestamp that goes on all of these orders, which means we can’t determine what time of the day this was signed). Some time in the weeks before October 30, DOJ had submitted this notice, admitting that NSA had been violating the limits on “metadata” collection from the very start, effectively meaning it had been collecting content in the US for 5 years.

Precisely the kind of illegal dragnet Virginia Shubert was suing the government to prevent.

Mind you, there are hints of NSA’s Internet dragnet violations in Alexander’s declaration. In ¶59, Alexander says of the dragnet, “The FISC Telephone Business Records Order was most recently reauthorized on September 3, 2009, with authority continuing until October 30, 2009″ (Walton signed the October 30, 2009 phone dragnet order around 2:30 ET, which would be 11:30 in NDCA where this declaration was filed). In ¶58, he says, “The FISC Pen Register Order was most recently reauthorized on [redacted], 2009, and requires continued assistance by the providers through [redacted] 2009″ (this is a longer redaction than October 30 would take up, so it may reflect the 5PM shutdown Walton had imposed). So it may be that one of the redacted passages in Alexander’s declaration admitted that FISC had ordered the Internet dragnet shut down.

In addition, footnote 24 is quite long (note it carries onto a second page); particularly given that the tense used to describe the dragnets in the referenced paragraph differ (the Internet dragnet is in the past tense, the phone dragnet is in the present tense), it is possible Alexander admitted to both the compliance violation and that NSA had “voluntarily” stopped querying the dragnet data.

Further, in his later discussions, he refers to this data as “non-content metadata” and “records about communication transactions,” which may reflect a tacit (or prior) acknowledgment that the NSA had been collecting more than what, to the telecoms who were providing it, was legally metadata, or, if you will, was in fact “content as metadata.”

To the extent that the plaintiffs “dragnet” allegations also implicate other NSA activities, such as the bulk collection of non-content communications meta data or the collection of communications records, see, e.g., Amended Compl ¶58, addressing their assertions would require disclosure of NSA sources and methods that would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.


Accordingly, adjudication of plaintiffs’ allegations concerning the collection of non-content meta data and records about communication transactions would risk or require disclosure of critical NSA sources and methods for [redacted] contacts of terrorist communications as well as the existence of current NSA activities under FISC Orders. Despite media speculation about those activities, official confirmation and disclosure of the NSA’s bulk collection and targeted analysis of telephony meta data would confirm to all of our foreign adversaries [redacted] the existence of these critical intelligence capabilities and thereby severely undermine NSA’s ability to gather information concerning terrorist connections and cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.

So it seems that Alexander provided some glimpse to Vaughn Walker of the troubles with the Internet dragnet program. So when after several long paragraphs describing the phone dragnet problems (making no mention even of the related Internet dragnet ones), Alexander promised to work with the FISC on the phone dragnet “and other compliance issues,” he likely invoked an earlier reference to the far more egregious Internet dragnet ones.

NSA is committed to working with the FISC on this and other compliance issues to ensure that this vital intelligence tool works appropriately and effectively. For purposes of this litigation, and the privilege assertions now made by the DNI and by the NSA, the intelligence sources and methods described herein remain highly classified and the disclosure that [redacted] would compromise vital NSA sources and methods and result in exceptionally grave harm to national security.

I find it tremendously telling how closely Alexander ties the violations themselves to the state secrets invocation.

The thing is, at this point in the litigation, the only honest thing to submit would have been a declaration stating, “Judge Walker? It turns out we’ve just alerted the FISC that we’ve been doing precisely what the plaintiffs in this case have accused of us — we’ve been doing it, in fact, for 5 years.” An honest declaration would have amounted to concession of the suit.

But it didn’t.

And that state secrets declaration, like the one the government submitted at the end of September, was accompanied by a secret statement of authorities, a document that (unless I’m mistaken) is among the very few that the government hasn’t released to EFF.

Which is why I find it so interesting that the government is now, specifically with reference to upstream collection, following the same approach.

Do these secret statements of authority basically say, “We admit it, judge, we’ve been violating the law in precisely the way the plaintiffs claim we have. But you have to bury that fact behind state secrets privilege, because our dragnets are more important than the Fourth Amendment”? Or do they claim they’re doing this illegal dragnettery under EO 12333 so the court can’t stop them?

If so, I can see why the government would want to keep them secret.

Update: I originally got the name of Shubert wrong. Virginia Shubert is the plaintiff.

USA Gag Freedom Act

As you likely know, there have been two developments with NSLs in the last few days. First, Twitter sued DOJ, on First Amendment grounds, to be able to publish how many NSLs and FISA orders it has received. And EFF argued before the 9th Circuit that the entire NSL statute should be declared unconstitutional.

These developments intersect with the USA Freedom Act in an interesting way. In the 9th Circuit, the Court (I believe this is Mary Murguia based on tweets from lawyers who were there, but am not certain) asked why Congress hasn’t just fixed the Constitutional problems identified in Doe v. Mukasey with NSL gag orders.

That set off DOJ Appellate lawyer Douglas Letter hemming and hawing in rather unspecific language (my transcription).

Mary Murguia: Have any measures been taken to Congress to try to change that reciprocal notice procedure, to make it legal as the 2nd Circuit suggested?

Douglas Letter: Your honor, my understanding is, and I’m a little hesitant to talk about this in this sense, as we know proposals can be made to Congress and who knows what will happen? The government is working on some, a, is working with Congressional staffers etcetera, we would hope that at some point we would have legislation. We do not as this point. I’m not, I’m not going to here make any predictions whether anything passes.

What Letter was talking about — bizarrely without mentioning it — was a provision addressing the unconstitutional NSL gags in USA Freedom Act.

The provision fixes one part of the NSLs by putting the onus on FBI to review every year whether gags must remain in place.


(A) IN GENERAL.—In the case of any request under subsection (b) for which a recipient has submitted a notification to the Government under section 3511(b)(1)(A) or filed a petition for judicial review under subsection (d)—

(i) an appropriate official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall, until termination of the nondisclosure requirement, review the facts supporting a nondisclosure requirement annually and upon closure of the investigation; and

(ii) if, upon a review under clause (i), the facts no longer support the nondisclosure requirement, an appropriate official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall promptly notify the wire or electronic service provider, or officer, employee, or agent thereof, subject to the nondisclosure requirement, and the court as appropriate, that the nondisclosure requirement is no longer in effect.

This would fix the problem identified by the 2nd Circuit.

Except that, bizarrely, it would require FBI to do what Letter represented to the Court FBI could not do — review the gags every year. Presumably, they assume so few providers will challenge the gag that they’ll be able to manage those few yearly reviews that would be required.

Which might be what this language is about.

(B) CLOSURE OF INVESTIGATION.—Upon closure of the investigation—

(i) the Federal Bureau of Investigation may petition the court before which a notification or petition for judicial review under subsection (d) has been filed for a determination that disclosure may result in the harm described in clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv) of paragraph (1)(B), if it notifies the recipient of such petition;

(ii) the court shall review such a petition pursuant to the procedures under section 3511; and

(iii) if the court determines that there is reason to believe that disclosure may result in the harm described in clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv) of paragraph (1)(B), the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall no longer be required to conduct the annual review of the facts supporting the nondisclosure requirement under subparagraph (A).

That is, in addition to fixing the constitutional problem with NSLs, USAF provides FBI way out of the supposedly onerous problem that fix requires, by establishing a way to get a permanent gag.

The NSL provisions in USAF have not gone totally unnoticed. Perhaps appropriately, one of the few public comments on it came from the EFF. It lumps it in with FBI’s exemption from reporting back door searches.

The FBI is exempt from Section 702 reporting, and the bill appears to provide a path for the FBI to get permanent gag orders in connection with national security letters.

And bill champion Kevin Bankston is acutely aware of the dynamic as well; after Twitter announced his suit he suggested this was a good reason to pass USAF.

Bankston NSL


Me, I’d rather let the courts work and get the leverage we might get that way.

Especially since it seems like FBI is more able to review yearly gag renewals that Letter told the court.


Did Anthony Coppolino Fib about NSA’s New Architecture?

On Tuesday, EFF told the tale of yet another government freak-out over purportedly classified information. The DOJ lawyer litigating their multiple dragnet challenges, Anthony Coppolino, accidentally uttered classified information in a hearing in June. So the government tried to take the classified information out of the transcript without admitting they did so. After Judge Jeffrey White let EFF have a say about all this, the government ultimately decided the information wasn’t classified after all. So the Court finally released the transcript.

My wildarseguess is that this is the passage in question:

Judge Bates never ultimately held that the acquisition violated the Constitution. The problem in that case was the minimization procedures were not sufficient to protect the Fourth Amendment interests of the people of the United States.

And so he ordered that they be changed, and they were changed. And he approved them. And in addition, in the process of not only approving the minimization procedures, NSA implemented new system architecture that did a better job at assuring that those communications were minimized and ultimately destroyed, which is the goal here. It’s part of the statutory framework not to collect on U.S. citizens and when you’ve incidentally done it, destroy it. [my emphasis]

According to the John Bates opinions relating to this incident, the NSA implemented a new system of ingesting this data, marking it, checking it before it gets moved into the general repository of data, and purging it if it includes entirely domestic commuincations. But does that count as new architecture? I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, the NSA has been upgrading their architecture. We learned that (among other places) in the most recent Theresa Shea declaration on NSA systems in EFF’s Jewel case. It doesn’t mention new architecture pertaining to  upstream  702, though she does discuss a more general architecture upgrade and how it affects Section 215 specifically.

Then there’s this language, addressing the NSA’s inability to filter US person data reliably, from PCLOB.

The NSA’s acquisition of MCTs is a function of the collection devices it has designed. Based on government representations, the FISC has stated that the “NSA’s upstream Internet collection devices are generally incapable of distinguishing between transactions containing only a single discrete communication to, from, or about a tasked selector and transactions containing multiple discrete communications, not all of which are to, from, or about a tasked selector.”155 While some distinction between SCTs and MCTs can be made with respect to some communications in conducting acquisition, the government has not been able to design a filter that would acquire only the single discrete communications within transactions that contain a Section 702 selector. This is due to the constant changes in the protocols used by Internet service providers and the services provided.156 If time were frozen and the NSA built the perfect filter to acquire only single, discrete communications, that filter would be out-of-date as soon as time was restarted and a protocol changed, a new service or function was offered, or a user changed his or her settings to interact with the Internet in a different way. Conducting upstream Internet acquisition will therefore continue to result in the acquisition of some communications that are unrelated to the intended targets.

The fact that the NSA acquires Internet communications through the acquisition of Internet transactions, be they SCTs or MCTs, has implications for the technical measures, such as IP filters, that the NSA employs to prevent the intentional acquisition of wholly domestic communications. With respect to SCTs, wholly domestic communications that are routed via a foreign server for any reason are susceptible to Section 702 acquisition if the SCT contains a Section 702 tasked selector.157 With respect to MCTs, wholly domestic communications also may be embedded within Internet transactions that also contain foreign communications with a Section 702 target. The NSA’s technical means for filtering domestic communications cannot currently discover and prevent the acquisition of such MCTs.158 

The footnotes in this section all cite to John Bates’ 2011 opinion (including, probably, some language that remains redacted in the public copy, such as on page 47). So we might presume it is out of date.  Except that PCLOB has done independent work on these issues and the end of the first paragraph includes language not sourced at all.

That is, PCLOB seems to think there remain technical problems with sorting out US person data, the filtering problem cannot be solved. (Which makes the ridiculous John Bates more skeptical on this point than PCLOB.)

So do the data segregation techniques implemented in 2011 amount to new architecture? Does the larger architecture upgrade going on going to affect upstream collection in some more meaningful fashion?

I don’t know. One other reason I think this might be the language is because Coppolino was — as he frequently does — running his mouth. Bates did rule the US person data collected before 2011 violated the Fourth Amendment, even if the task before him was solely to judge whether the minimization procedures before him did. More importantly, Bates was quite clear that this US person collection was intentional, not incidental.

So Coppolino was making claims about one of the practices (the PRTT collection is another) that is most likely to help EFF win their suit, upstream collection, which actually does entail domestic wiretapping of US person content. He made a claim that suggested — with the fancy word “architecture” — that NSA had made technical fixes. But PCLOB, at least, doesn’t believe they’ve gotten to the real issue.

Who knows? It’s just a guess. What’s not a guess is that Coppolino seems to recognize upstream 702 presents a real problem in this suit.

Did ACLU and EFF Just Help the NSA Get Inside Your Smart Phone?

EFF ACLUThe ACLU and EFF normally do great work defending the Fourth Amendment. Both have fought the government’s expansive spying for years. Both have fought hard to require the government obtain a warrant before accessing your computer, cell phone, and location data.

But earlier this week, they may have taken action that directly undermines that good work.

On Wednesday, both civil liberties organizations joined in a letter supporting Patrick Leahy’s version of USA Freedom Act, calling it a necessary first step.

We support S. 2685 as an important first step toward necessary comprehensive surveillance reform. We urge the Senate and the House to pass it quickly, and without
making any amendments that would weaken the important changes described above.

ACLU’s Laura Murphy explained why ACLU signed onto the bill in a column at Politico, analogizing it to when, in 2010, ACLU signed onto a bill that lowered, but did not eliminate,  disparities in crack sentencing.

Reform advocates were at a crossroads. Maximalists urged opposition despite the fact the bill would, in a very real way, make life better for thousands of people and begin to reduce the severe racial and ethnic inequality in our prison system. Pragmatists, fearing that opposition to the bill would preclude any reform at all, urged support.

It was a painful compromise, but the ACLU ultimately supported the bill. It passed, astoundingly, with overwhelming support in both chambers.

And then something amazing happened. Conservative lawmakers, concerned about government waste, increasingly came to the table to support criminal justice reform. Liberals realized they could vote their conscience on criminal justice without accusations of being “soft on crime.” It has not been easy and there have been many steps backward, but in recent years, we’ve seen greater public opposition to mandatory minimum sentences and real movement on things like reducing penalties for low-level drug offenses.

The analogy is inapt. You don’t end crack disparities by increasing the number of coke dealers in jail. But Leahy’s USA Freedom Act almost certainly will increase the number of totally innocent Americans who will be subjected to the full brunt of NSA’s analytical authorities indefinitely.

That’s because by outsourcing to telecoms, NSA will actually increase the total percentage of Americans’ telephone records that get chained on; sources say it will be more “comprehensive” than the current dragnet and Deputy NSA Director Richard Ledgett agrees the “the actual universe of potential calls that could be queried against is [potentially] dramatically larger.” In addition, the telecoms are unlikely to be able to remove all the noisy numbers like pizza joints — as NSA currently claims to – meaning more people with completely accidental phone ties to suspects will get sucked in. And USA Freedom adopts a standard for data retention — foreign intelligence purpose — that has proven meaningless in the past, so once a person’s phone number gets turned over to the NSA, they’ll be fair game for further NSA spying, the really invasive stuff, indefinitely.

But that’s not the reason I find ACLU and EFF’s early support for USA Freedom so astounding.

I’m shocked ACLU and EFF are supporting this bill because they don’t know what the NSA will be permitted to do at the immunized telecoms. They have blindly signed onto a bill permitting “connection chaining” without first understanding what connection chaining entails.

As I have reported extensively, while every witness who has talked about the phone dragnet has talked about chaining on phone calls made — all the calls Anwar al-Awlaki made, all the calls those people made — the language describing this chaining process has actually been evolving. Dianne Feinstein’s Fake FISA Fix last fall allowed the NSA to chain on actual calls — as witnesses had described — but also on communications (not just calls) “to or from any selector reasonably linked to the selector.” A February modification and the last two dragnet orders permitted NSA to chain on identifiers “with a contact and/or connection” with the seed, making it clear that a “connection” is something different than a “contact.” The House bill USA Freedumber adopted the same language in a legislative report. Leahy’s bill adopts largely the same language for chaining.

(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;

Now, it’s possible that this language does nothing more than what NSA illegally did until 2009: chain on both the identifier itself, but also on identifiers it has determined to be the same person. Back in 2009, NSA referred to a separate database to determine these other identifiers. Though that’s unlikely, because the bill language suggests the telecoms will be identifying these direct connections.

It’s possible, too, that this language only permits the telecoms to find “burner” phones — a new phone someone adopts after having disposed of an earlier one — and chain on that too.

But it’s also possible that this language would permit precisely what AT&T does for DEA in its directly analogous Hemisphere program: conduct analysis using cell site data. The bill does not permit NSA to receive cell site data, but it does nothing to prohibit NSA from receiving phone numbers identified using cell site data. When Mark Warner asked about this, Ledgett did not answer, and James Cole admitted they could use these orders (with FISC approval) to get access to cell location.

It’s possible, too, that the telecoms will identify direct connections using other data we know NSA uses to identify connections in EO 12333 data, including phone book and calendar data.

The point is, nobody in the public knows what “connections” NSA will be asking its immunized telecom partners to make. And nothing in the bill or even the public record prohibits NSA from asking telecoms to use a range of smart phone information to conduct their analysis, so long as they only give NSA phone identifiers as a result.

In response to questions from Senators about what this means, Leahy’s office promised a letter from James Clapper’s office clarifying what “connections” means (No, I don’t remember the part of Schoolhouse Rock where those regulated by laws get to provide “clarifications” that don’t make it into the laws themselves). That letter was reported to be due on Tuesday, by close of business — several days ago. It hasn’t appeared yet.

I asked people at both EFF and ACLU about this problem. EFF admitted they don’t know what this language means. ACLU calls the language “ambiguous,” but based on nothing they were able to convey to me, insists getting smart phone data under the guise of connection chaining would be an abuse. ACLU also pointed to transparency provisions in the bill, claiming that would alert us if the NSA starting doing something funky with its connection language; that of course ignores that “connection chaining” is an already-approved process, meaning that existing processes won’t ever be need to be released. It also ignores that the Administration has withheld what is probably a directly relevant phone dragnet opinion from both ACLU and EFF in their dragnet FOIA.

I get Laura Murphy’s point about using USA Freedom to start the process of reform. But what I don’t understand is why you’d do that having absolutely no idea whether that “reform” codifies the kind of warrantless probable cause-free access to device data that ACLU and EFF have fought so hard to prevent elsewhere.

ACLU and EFF are supposed to be leaders in protecting the privacy of our devices, including smart phones. I worry with their embrace of this bill, they’re leading NSA right into our smart phones.

All These Muslim Organizations Have Probably Been Associationally Mapped

The Intercept has published their long-awaited story profiling a number of Muslim-American leaders who have been targeted by the FBI and NSA. It shows that:

  • American Muslim Council consultant Faisal Gill was surveilled from April 17, 2006 to February 8, 2008
  • al-Haramain lawyer Asim Ghafoor was surveilled under FISA (after having been surveilled illegally) starting March 9, 2005; that surveillance was sustained past March 27, 2008
  • American Muslim Alliance founder Agha Saeed was surveilled starting June 27, 2007; that surveillance was sustained past May 23, 2008
  • CAIR founder Nihad Awad was surveilled from July 17, 2006 to February 1, 2008
  • American Iranian Council founder Hooshang Amirahmadi was surveilled from August 17, 2006 to May 16, 2008

In other words, the leaders of a number of different Muslim civil society organizations were wiretapped for years under a program that should require a judge agreeing they represent agents of a foreign power.

But they probably weren’t just wiretapped. They probably were also used as seeds for the phone and Internet dragnets, resulting in the associational mapping of their organizations’ entire structure.

On August 18, 2006, the phone dragnet primary order added language deeming “telephone numbers that are currently the subject of FISA authorized electronic surveillance … approved for meta data querying without approval of an NSA official due to the FISA authorization.”

Given the way the phone and Internet dragnet programs parallel each other (and indeed, intersect in federated queries starting at least by 2008), a similar authorization was almost certainly included in the Internet dragnet at least by 2006.

That means as soon as these men were approved for surveillance by FISA, the NSA also had the authority to run 3-degree contact chaining on their email and phone numbers. All their contacts, all their contacts’ contacts, and all their contacts’ contacts’ contacts would have been collected and dumped into the corporate store for further NSA analysis.

Not only that, but all these men were surveilled during the period (which continued until 2009) when the NSA was running automated queries on people and their contacts, to track day-to-day communications of RAS-approved identifiers.

So it is probably reasonable to assume that, at least for the period during which these men were under FISA-authorized surveillance, the NSA has an associational map of their organizations and their affiliates.

Which is why I find it interesting that DOJ refused to comment on this story, but told other reporters that FBI had never had a FISA warrant for CAIR founder Nihad Awad specifically.

The Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, or for clarification about why the five men’s email addresses appear on the list. But in the weeks before the story was published, The Intercept learned that officials from the department were reaching out to Muslim-American leaders across the country to warn them that the piece would contain errors and misrepresentations, even though it had not yet been written.

Prior to publication, current and former government officials who knew about the story in advance also told another news outlet that no FISA warrant had been obtained against Awad during the period cited. When The Intercept delayed publication to investigate further, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence refused to confirm or deny the claim, or to address why any of the men’s names appear on the FISA spreadsheet.

Awad’s organization, CAIR, is a named plaintiff in the EFF’s suit challenging the phone dragnet. They are suing about the constitutionality of a program that — the EFF suit also happens to allege — illegally mapped out associational relations that should be protected by the Constitution.

CAIR now has very good reason to believe their allegations in the suit — that all their relationships have been mapped — are absolutely correct.

Update: EFF released this statement on the Intercept story, reading, in part,

Surveillance based on First Amendment-protected activity was a stain on our nation then and continues to be today. These disclosures yet again demonstrate the need for ongoing public attention to the government’s activities to ensure that its surveillance stays within the bounds of law and the Constitution. And they once again demonstrate the need for immediate and comprehensive surveillance law reform.

We look forward to continuing to represent CAIR in fighting for its rights, as well as the rights of all citizens, to be free from unconstitutional government surveillance.

EFF represents CAIR Foundation and two of its regional affiliates, CAIR-California and CAIR-Ohio, in a case challenging the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ call records. More information about that case is available at: First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA.

Center for Democracy and Technology’s James Dempsey on “the Wall,” Then and Now

Remember “the wall” that used to separate intelligence from criminal investigations and was used as an excuse for intelligence agencies not sharing intelligence they were permitted to share before 9/11?

It was demolished in 2001 — when the PATRIOT Act explicitly permitted what had been permitted before, sharing of intelligence information with the FBI – and 2002 — when the FISA Court of Review overruled presiding FISA Judge Royce Lamberth’s efforts to sustain some Fourth Amendment protections in criminal investigations using minimization procedures.

Nevertheless, the specter of a wall that didn’t prevent the Intelligence Committee from discovering 9/11 rising again is one of the things lying behind PCLOB’s weak recommendations on back door searches in its report on Section 702.

Of particular note, that’s what the Center for Democracy and Technology’s James Dempsey cites in his squishy middle ground recommendation on back door searches.

It is imperative not to re-erect the wall limiting discovery and use of information vital to the national security, and nothing in the Board’s recommendations would do so. The constitutionality of the Section 702 program is based on the premise that there are limits on the retention, use and dissemination of the communications of U.S. persons collected under the program. The proper mix of limitations that would keep the program within constitutional bounds and acceptable to the American public may vary from agency to agency and under different circumstances. The discussion of queries and uses at the FBI in this Report is based on our understanding of current practices associated with the FBI’s receipt and use of Section 702 data. The evolution of those practices may merit a different balancing. For now, the use or dissemination of Section 702 data by the FBI for non-national security matters is apparently largely, if not entirely, hypothetical. The possibility, however, should be addressed before the question arises in a moment of perceived urgency. Any number of possible structures would provide heightened protection of U.S. persons consistent with the imperative to discover and use critical national security information already in the hands of the government.546 

546 See Presidential Policy Directive — Signals Intelligence Activities, Policy Directive 28, 2014 WL 187435, § 2, (Jan. 17, 2014) (limiting the use of signals intelligence collected in bulk to certain enumerated purposes), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/17/presidential-policy-directive-signals-intelligence-activities.  [my emphasis]

Dempsey situates his comments in the context of the “wall.” He then suggests there are two possible uses of back door searches: “national security matters,” and non-national security matters, with the latter being entirely hypothetical, according to what the FBI self-reported to PCLOB.

Thus, he’s mostly thinking in terms of “possible structures [that] would provide heightened protection of US. persons,” to stave off future problems. He points to President Obama’s PPD-28 as one possibility as a model.

But PPD-28 is laughably inapt! Not only does the passage in question address “bulk collection,” which according to the definition Obama uses and PCLOB has adopted has nothing to do with Section 702. “[T]he Board does not regard Section 702 as a ‘bulk’ collection program,” PCLOB wrote at multiple points in its report.

More troubling, the passage in PPD-28 Dempsey cites permits bulk collection for the following uses:

(1) espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign powers or their intelligence services against the United States and its interests;

(2) threats to the United States and its interests from terrorism;

(3) threats to the United States and its interests from the development, possession, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction;

(4) cybersecurity threats;

(5) threats to U.S. or allied Armed Forces or other U.S or allied personnel;

(6) transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion related to the other purposes named in this section;

Ultimately, this represents — or should — an expansion of permissible use of Section 702 data, because its discussion of  terrorism and cybersecurity do not distinguish between those with an international nexus and those without. And the discussion of transnational crime might subject any petty drug dealer selling dope from Mexico to foreign intelligence treatment.

That this is what passes for the mushy middle on PCLOB is especially curious given that Dempsey was one of the first PCLOB member to express concern about back door searches. He did so in November’s Section 215 hearing, and even suggested limiting back door searches to foreign intelligence purposes (which is not the standard for FBI, in any case) was inadequate. Nevertheless, in last week’s report, he backed only very weak protections for back door searches, and did so within the context of national security versus non-national security, and not intelligence versus crime.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Dempsey exclusively — I’ll have a few more posts on this issue. And to be clear, Dempsey does not represent CDT at PCLOB; he’s there in his private capacity.

But I raised his affiliation with CDT because in that capacity, Dempsey was part of an amicus brief, along with representatives from ACLU, Center for National Security Studies, EPIC, and EFF, submitted in the In Re Sealed Case in 2002, in which the FISA Court of Review reversed Lamberth and permitted prosecutor involvement in FISA warrants. That brief strongly rebuts the kind of argument he adopted in last week’s PCLOB report.

Continue reading

Judge Will Review DOJ’s Withholding of More Section 215 Orders

Citing the significant public interest and past overclassification, the judge in EFF’s side of the Section 215 FOIA has ordered DOJ to cough up 5 (actually, I believe it is 6) orders, so she can review them in camera to see whether the government should release them.

The orders — with my speculation about what they are — are:

FISC opinion dated 8/20/2008 (6 pages)

I wrote about this opinion here. Two days before the order, the government submitted information on how it correlates different phone selectors for further chaining, which leads me to believe that’s the topic of the opinion. The government doesn’t want to release it because it is still using this “method,” which leads me to believe it would offer some insight on what it means that the automatic queries approved in 2012 and the connection-based chaining envisioned under the reformed program.

(2) FISC order dated 10/31/2006 (19 pages);

I believe this is actually two orders, one of 15 and one of 4 pages. If these pertain to the phone dragnet, one might pertain to compensation, another might either deal with violations the program was already experiencing (the next primary order imposed new regular reviews).

But it’s just as likely that these orders approve bulk collection for something else — perhaps financial records, for example.

(5) FISC orders dated 12/16/2005 (16 pages)
(3) FISC orders dated 2/17/2006 (17 pages)
(4) FISC orders dated 2/24/2006 (8 pages)

Given the timing (I’ve retained Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers’ numbering but adjusted order to match timing), I suspect these deal with the illegal wiretapping program. After all the first of these three orders was approved the day after the program was disclosed, during the period when PATRIOT Authority was extended after an true extension was filibustered.

Mind you, these are not supposed to deal with bulk collection. It may be they dealt with extending existing programs, providing feedback about what would not be acceptable bulk collection, or simply smaller orders affecting the most important part of the production.

As a reminder, there are 3 other known dragnet orders — from during the period when FISC was working through the violations in 2009 — the government didn’t even disclose to EFF. I wrote about those here.

DOJ’s Idea of an Appropriate Passive-Aggressive Response to Accusations They Destroyed Evidence: Destroy More Evidence

On Friday May 30, as I reported, EFF filed a motion accusing the government of destroying evidence it was obligated to keep in EFF’s NSA lawsuits.

Later that day, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn emailed her contact at DOJ, Marcia (Marcy) Berman, saying,

Jewel plaintiffs are okay with [a deadline extension] if the government can assure us that no additional information will be destroyed in the meantime.

As you can see, we went ahead and filed [the motion on spoliation].

The following Monday, after Cohn asked Berman, “Does that mean no additional information will be destroyed in the meantime?” Berman answered,

What it means is that we have already explained in our opening brief that we are in compliance with our preservation obligations and do not feel that we should have to make any further assurances or undertakings to accommodate plaintiffs’ need for additional time.

Later that day, Cohn reminded Berman that the Temporary Restraining Order covering destruction of information “including but not limited to … telephone metadata” remained in place. Cohn continued,

You appear to be saying that routine destruction of post-FISC material is continuing to occur regardless of the TRO; please confirm whether this is correct.

Berman responded, obliquely, yes.

The Court is presently considering whether the Government must preserve material obtained under Section 702 of FISA in the context of the Jewel/Shubert litigation. In the meantime, pending resolution of the preservation issues in this case, we have been examining with our clients how to address the preservation of data acquired under the Section 702 program in light of FISC imposed data retention limits (even though we disagree that the program is at issue in Jewel and Shubert).

Hoffman wrote a bunch more about “technical” “classified” blah blah blah, which I’ll return to, because I think it’s probably significant.

But for now, EFF filed for an emergency order to enforce the TRO issued back in March. Judge Jeffrey White has demanded a response from the government by noon tomorrow (they had wanted a week).

I can’t think of a more relevant NSA practice to a suit that relies significantly on Mark Klein’s whistle-blowing about the room where AT&T diverted and copied large amounts of telecom traffic than upstream 702 collection, in which AT&T and other telecom providers divert and copy large amounts of telecom traffic. While I’m not certain this evidence pertains to upstream — and not PRISM — EFF suggests that is included.

In communications with the government this week, plaintiffs learned to their surprise that the government is continuing to destroy evidence relating to the mass interception of Internet communications it is conducting under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This would include evidence relating to its use of “splitters” to conduct bulk interceptions of the content of Internet communications from the Internet “backbone” network of AT&T, as described in multiple FISC opinions and in the evidence of Mark Klein and J. Scott Marcus, ECF Nos. 84, 85, 89, 174 at Ex. 1

If it is, then it seems all the more damning, given that upstream collection is the practice that most obviously violates the ban on wiretapping Americans in the US.

EFF filed a motion accusing the government of illegally destroying evidence. And the government’s response was to destroy more evidence.

Update: The government has asked for an emergency stay of the Court’s June 5 order (which is actually a March 10 order, but the government doesn’t admit that) because NSA says so.

Undersigned counsel have been advised by the National Security Agency that compliance with the June 5, 2014 Order would cause severe operational consequences for the National Security Agency (NSA’s) national security mission, including the possible suspension of the Section 702 program and potential loss of access to lawfully collected signals intelligence information on foreign intelligence targets that is vital to NSA’s foreign intelligence mission

There’s something funky here — perhaps that some of this actually belongs to GCHQ? I dunno — which is leading the government to be so obstinate. Let’s hope we learn what it is.

Update: And EFF objected to DOJ’s request for a stay, pointing out what I did: that what they’re really asking for is blessing for ignoring the March 10 order.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @conor64 Yep, think that is exactly right.
bmaz RT @conor64: Excellent, long-overdue outcome for many immigrants–done in way that sets troubling exec power precedent that won’t go away. S…
bmaz RT @Charlieleduff: Unilateral immigration reform with the Ferguson grand jury decision imminent. I wonder if the White House has fully cons…
bmaz @armandodkos ...headroom for this without couple of forms of conservative precedent. Ironic indeed. Not that GOP will appreciate the irony.
bmaz @armandodkos "I think it SHOULD be unconstitutional. Ironically conservative jurists made it constitutional." Yep. No way there is the...
bmaz @armandodkos As to the policy itself, support it completely, though have real problems about how being effected, even if putatively legal.
bmaz @armandodkos Thought it was quite well delivered+powerful. But so was Cairo, and that is shambles now; sincerely hope this turns out better.
bmaz @JoshMBlackman @derektmuller No. Libya WPR question.
bmaz @rickhasen @brianefallon @PeterBeinart @JeffreyToobin Heh, he did. But tentatively think he's right here b/c lack of standing+polit question
bmaz @TimothyS The CCA facilities down by Eloy and greater Pinal County area are freaking huge. It is nuts.
bmaz @PhilPerspective @walterwkatz Heh. I am not sure what bugs me so much about the guy, but he just really grates on me.
bmaz @walterwkatz @PhilPerspective I know, the article was pretty funny. But Phil went and uttered the Buxton name! Article right, F1 is goofy.
November 2014
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