Happy Memorial Day! Remember Your Government Will Be Tracking with Whom You Celebrate this Weekend

As I’ve said repeatedly in discussions of the secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act provisions that Ron Wyden and Mark Udall complained about, those interpretations probably claim the government can collect mass information on geolocation.

Julian Sanchez lays out why that is almost certainly the case in this worthwhile post. The three main points (there are several less crucial ones) are:

  • The government has been using a hybrid approach–using a combination of pen registers and 2703(d) orders–to get geolocation data in criminal investigations with some support from courts; using pen registers with Section 215 orders could offer the same “hybrid” authorization
  • The structure of Ron Wyden’s legislation aiming to rein in geolocation tracking starts with restrictions on FISA, which the criminal statute incorporates, but also includes explicit prohibitions on using pen registers and Section 215 to get geolocation information
  • TruePosition’s LocInt service markets the ability to determine proximity, but doing so would rely on widespread collection of geolocation information

In other words, Sanchez lays out both the legal means we know the government has used to track geolocation, maps the legal means Wyden is attempting to use to curtail those legal means, and describes the technical necessity for widespread collection.

Which is a pretty compelling argument that the big rush to extend PATRIOT is about making sure this geolocation tracking doesn’t shut down over the Memorial Day weekend. So rest assured your government is tracking where you’re vacationing this weekend and with whom.

The PATRIOT Act Vote: One Quarter of the Way to a Fourth Amendment

The final vote in the Senate opposing yet another sunset of the PATRIOT act was 72-23-5, meaning we’re almost a quarter of the way to regaining some semblance of a Fourth Amendment.


Those voting against the forever PATRIOT?

Akaka (D-HI)

Baucus (D-MT)

Begich (D-AK)

Bingaman (D-NM)

Brown (D-OH)

Cantwell (D-WA)

Coons (D-DE)

Durbin (D-IL)

Franken (D-MN)

Harkin (D-IA)

Heller (R-NV)

Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Leahy (D-VT)

Lee (R-UT)

Merkley (D-OR)

Murkowski (R-AK)

Murray (D-WA)

Paul (R-KY)

Sanders (I-VT)

Tester (D-MT)

Udall (D-CO)

Udall (D-NM)

Wyden (D-OR)

Though note we’re not really a quarter of the way to a Fourth Amendment. Most of these Dems, I suspect, oppose the passage of another sunset without a debate. Some are particularly pissed about the latest interpretation of Section 215. But most still support the concept of PATRIOT powers.

Which means we’re not really making all that much progress.

One aspect of today’s vote I did find interesting, however, was that five Republicans voted against tabling Rand Paul’s gun amendment (limiting the use of Section 215 to get gun records), but voted in favor of the overall sunset. These five are: Barrasso (WY), DeMint (SC), Enzi (WY), Moran (KS), and Shelby (AL).

In other words, these men seem to object only to the use of super government powers when it threatens their gun rights, but not their First Amendment, nor their financial privacy, nor their associations.

While I happen to think figuring out what kind of guns suspected terrorists are buying is a reasonable use of a counter-terrorism law, if we have to have one, I am curious whether this vote will make gun nuts realize that their privacy’s at stake, too (though Saxby Chambliss got up to make it clear that domestic terrorists–like the right wing terrorists who might most object to using PATRIOT to collect gun purchase records–were not at risk). This vote also has the makings of one that TeaParty politicians might use to distinguish themselves from other Republicans.

Because right now, opposition to PATRIOT excesses is still mostly a Democratic issue (though Rand Paul definitely took the leadership role Russ Feingold would have had in the past). Until more Republicans join Paul, Heller, and Lee in opposing PATRIOT, it’ll remain on the books, particularly so long as we have a Democratic President whom Democratic Senators are happy to have wielding such power.

Update: After a half hour of debate, the extension passed the House 250-153.

Clapper: We Need to Pass PATRIOT to Make Sure Apple Continues to Track Your Location

I’m very sympathetic to what Glenn and bmaz and Spencer and Julian have to say about the stupid fear-mongering around today’s PATRIOT extension. Julian’s explanation of how the grandfather clause would work is particularly important:

. A lapse of these provisions for a few days—or a few weeks—would have no significant effect. First, they’re all covered by a grandfather clause.  And contrary to what the New York Times implies, that doesn’t just mean that orders or warrants already issued under these authorities remain in effect.  Rather, as the Congressional Research Service explains (using the sunset deadline from prior to a short-term extension):

The grandfather clauses authorize the continued effect of the amendments with respect to investigations that began, or potential offenses that took place, before the provision’s sunset date.108 Thus, for example, if an individual were engaged in international terrorism on the sunset date of February 28, 2011, he would still be considered a “lone wolf” for FISA court orders sought after the provision has

expired. Similarly, if an individual is engaged in international terrorism on that date, he may be the target of a roving wiretap under FISA even after authority for new roving wiretaps has expired.

Got that? Every investigation already in progress at the time of sunset gets to keep using the old powers. Every new investigation where the illegal conduct in question began before the sunset date gets to keep using the old powers. Over the span of a few days or weeks, that’s going to cover almost every actual investigation. For the tiny number that don’t fall into those categories, if there are any at all in the space of a short lapse, investigators will be “limited” to relying on every other incredibly broad tool in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act arsenal—with, of course, the option to use plain old criminal investigative authorities as well.

And James Clapper’s fearmongering letter–which was liberated by Sam Stein–is particularly absurd on most counts.

I mean, are we supposed to worry that the government can’t “conduct timely surveillance on a non-U.S. person ‘lone wolf’ terrorist such as an individual who has self radicalized and responds to international terrorist calls to attack the United States,” when the government has never had a need to use this authority, not even with Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who was a “a non-U.S. person ‘lone wolf’ terrorist such as an individual who has self radicalized and responds to international terrorist calls to attack the United States”?

I mean, if Clapper wants to make bullshit claims, he just encourages us to treat everything he says as bullshit.

That said, I wonder whether the underlying issue here isn’t the explicit powers–the ability to find out about “terrorist [and non-terrorist] purchases of bomb-making chemicals” with Section 215, for example, but instead the secret collection programs. Clapper says,

Important classified collection programs might be forced to shut down, causing us to lose valuable intelligence information that could be used to identify terrorists and disrupt their plots.

After all, we presume the government is collecting geolocation data not through an actual investigation related to an individual suspect and therefore grandfathered in under the terms Julian laid out. We presume the government is playing fast and lose with the word “related to” in Section 215.

And so it’s not so much that we’ll lose track of Muslims who buy hydrogen peroxide. It’s that the corporations being forced (we presume) to turn over geolocation data are going to respond to the very public lapse of PATRIOT and refuse to keep turning that data over.

(In this way, this fearmongering is precisely like the fearmongering used in February 2008 after the Protect America Act expired; the real issue was the complaints of the telecoms who were legally on the line.)

Of course, none of this means anyone ought to cave to the fearmongering. After all, if the legal basis for this collection is so sketchy that it wouldn’t qualify for the grandfathering that the real authorities do, the government probably ought not be relying on it, right?

Or maybe Reid is just channeling Dick Cheney because he’s anxious to start his long holiday weekend.


The Changes Wyden/Udall Wanted to Section 215

As I’ve been reporting, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall unsuccessfully tried to get the Senate to require the government to reveal how it interprets the PATRIOT Act. And since both have made it clear that Section 215 is one of the concerns, I wanted to look at the amendment they’ve proposed to fix Section 215. They proposed to replace this language:

(2) shall include—

(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to— 

(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or
(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; and
(B) an enumeration of the minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General under subsection (g) that are applicable to the retention and dissemination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any tangible things to be made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on the order requested in such application.
With this:

(2) shall include–

(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records or other things sought–

(i) are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities; and

(ii)(I) pertain to a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;

(II) are relevant to the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or

(III) pertain to an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power; and

(B) an enumeration of the minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General under subsection (g) that are applicable to the retention and dissemination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any tangible things to be made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on the order requested in such application.”.

This actually has become a perennial suggested change, one the Administration has been rejecting, in general, since 2009.

What the existing law does, through magic of grammatical obfuscation, is eliminate the requirement that Section 215 have anything to do with an actual investigation of suspected terrorists (or alleged spies like Julian Assange). It’s just easier (“presumptively relevant”) to use Section 215 with such people.

But all of that means the government can use Section 215 to get tangible things to protect against international terrorism. The government might only have to argue that it needs a database of everyone’s cell phone geolocation so when they look for terrorists or WikiLeaks supporters, they’ve got that all on file already.

Wyden and Udall are trying to swap out that language to require that the information both be relevant to an investigation and be tied to some suspected terrorist (or Julian Assange). The magic of “and.”

But of course that would make Section 215 useless for bulk collection, which is why this Amendment, after some fear-mongering, always gets defeated.

Because the United States of America, under the guise of fighting terrorists, has to consistently lie to its citizens so it can create massive databases on completely innocent people available for any searches the government might want to do, whether those searches have to do with terrorism or not.

And they call all this lying? The PATRIOT Act.

The Government’s PATRIOTic Databases on Innocent Americans

As I reported yesterday, one of the amendments to the PATRIOT Act Harry Reid made sure wouldn’t get a vote pertained to making it clear how the government interprets the PATRIOT Act. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden wanted to force the government to at least explain how they were interpreting the law so constituents would know how lame their Senators were for voting in favor of it.

Spencer took the time to go ask some folks what this was about.

Among other things, Wyden explained that Section 215, as I suspected, was one of the concerns.

“It is fair to say that the business records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”

And Wyden notes that the government is increasingly using such secret interpretations.

“I’m talking about instances where the government is relying on secret interpretations of what the law says without telling the public what those interpretations are,” Wyden says, “and the reliance on secret interpretations of the law is growing.”

Which seems consistent with the February 2, 2011 briefing on yet another new use of PATRIOT.

DOJ didn’t want to answer Spencer’s questions. They sent him to some old Todd Hinnen testimony admitting to using it to get things like drivers licenses, as well as secret programs of indistinct number (I’m pretty sure there were just two a year ago) he won’t tell us about.

Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like.  It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records.  Some orders have also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed.

In other words, DOJ chose not to send Spencer to Robert Mueller’s testimony where he admitted it had been used to collect information on hydrogen peroxide purchasers. Note that at Mueller’s earlier testimony–which took place just a couple of weeks after the government briefed the intelligence committees on this new use of Section 215–Wyden went on a bit of a rant on this same topic.

“I believe that the American people would be absolutely stunned, I think members of Congress, many of them, would be stunned, if they knew how the PATRIOT Act was being interpreted and applied in practice,” Wyden declared heatedly. “I’m going to insist in significant reform in this area. We’re not talking about operations and methods. There is a huge gap today between how you all are interpreting the PATRIOT Act and what the American people think the PATRIOT Act is all about and it’s going to need to be resolved…..Right now with respect to the executive branch’s official interpretation of what the law means, we’re not getting it.”

Wyden said the Justice Department should release Office of Legal Counsel opinions about what kinds of investigative activities are authorized under the PATRIOT Act. Intelligence committee members have seen those classified opinions, most other members of Congress and the general public have not.

Finally, though, Spencer pointed to Mark Udall’s speech in the Senate yesterday. His comments make it clear that the wider collection programs–like, presumably the hydrogen peroxide one–are targeted at all Americans, not just those suspected of terrorist ties.

For example, currently, the intelligence community can (1) place wide-ranging wiretaps on Americans without even identifying the target or location of such surveillance, (2) target individuals who have no connection to terrorist organizations, and (3) collect business records on law-abiding Americans, without any connection to terrorism. We ought to be able to at least agree that the source of an investigation under PATRIOT Act powers should have a terrorist-related focus. If we can’t limit investigations to terrorism, where do they end? Is there no amount of information that our government can collect that should be off limits? I know Coloradans are demanding that we at least place common-sense limits on government investigations and link data collection to terrorist-related activities.

If Congress passes this bill to extend the PATRIOT Act until 2015, it would mean that for four more years, the federal government will continue to have unrestrained access to private information about Americans who have no connection to terrorism – with little to no accountability about how these powers are used. Again, we all agree the intelligence community needs effective tools to combat terrorism, but we must provide those tools in a way that protects the constitutional freedoms of our people and lives up to the standard of transparency that democracy demands.


Finally, I was joined by Senator Wyden in filing an amendment designed to narrow the scope of “business record” materials that can be collected under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. This amendment would still allow law enforcement agencies to use the PATRIOT Act to obtain such records, but would require those entities to demonstrate that the records are in some way connected to terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

Law enforcement currently can obtain any kind of records. In fact, the PATRIOT Act’s only limitation states that such information has to be related to “any tangible thing.” That’s right – as long as these business records are related to “any tangible thing,” the U.S. government can require businesses to turn over information on all of their customers, whether or not there is any link to terrorism. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask our law enforcement agencies to identify a terrorism investigation before seizing the private information of law-abiding American citizens. [my emphasis]

It’s clear they’re using Section 215 to just collect data–things like beauty supply purchases and geolocation data–to dump into government databases.

And something in the neighborhood of 85 Senators are about to give them the green light to continue doing so, all by lying to us that it’s about terrorism.

Wyden and Udall Want Obama to Admit to Secret Collection Program

Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have an amendment to the PATRIOT Act that makes it clear the Obama Administration briefed the Intelligence Committees in February on an intelligence collection program, conducted under PATRIOT authority, that interprets the language of the law so broadly as to mean something it really doesn’t say. The amendment reads, in part,

(6) United States Government officials should not secretly reinterpret public laws and statutes in a manner that is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of these laws, and should not describe the execution of these laws in a way that misinforms or misleads the public;

(7) On February 2, 2011, the congressional intelligence committees received a secret report from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence that has been publicly described as pertaining to intelligence collection authorities that are subject to expiration under section 224 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107–56; 115 Stat. 295); and

(8) while it is entirely appropriate for particular intelligence collection techniques to be kept secret, the laws that authorize such techniques, and the United States Government’s official interpretation of these laws, should not be kept secret but should instead be transparent to the public, so that these laws can be the subject of informed public debate and consideration.

(b) REPORT.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall publish in the Federal Register a report—

(1) that details the legal basis for the intelligence collection activities described in the February 2, 2011, report to the congressional intelligence committees; and

(2) that does not describe specific intelligence collection programs or activities, but that fully describes the legal interpretations and analysis necessary to understand the United States Government’s official interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.).

In short, Eric Holder and James Clapper came to SSCI on February 2 and told the committee about a way the government was broadly interpreting FISA and the powers expiring next Monday.

This Amendment would require Holder to admit to what the government was doing, in broad terms, without revealing what kind of surveillance was going on.

This probably pertains to the Section 215 authorities; we know they’re using it to construct databases of people who buy hydrogen peroxide and acetone. But I would bet there’s a more generalized collection program that results in more databases they can mine. A very good guess would be using geolocation data from cell phones to collect information on the whereabouts of Americans.

Don’t you think the time to press for such admissions is before this shit gets re-upped for another four years?

Update: Apparently this isn’t even among the amendments Reid is pulling parliamentary maneuvers to avoid even discussing. So I guess this is just an effort to wave a flag saying, “PATRIOT isn’t what it says it is?”