Mitch McConnell

Devin Nunes Will Let Dragnet Lapse So Mitch McConnell Can Save Face?!?!

NYT has a remarkable article describing how a number of hawks are willing to risk letting PATRIOT Act authorities lapse so Mitch McConnell can save face.

Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency’s dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government’s domestic surveillance authority.

[snip]

If negotiators accept minor changes to the House bill, it will mark a significant retreat for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sadly, the NYT continues the typically credulous mainstream reporting on this topic. For example, Mitch McConnell never really wanted a straight reauthorization.

Mr. McConnell and Mr. Burr wanted a straight extension of the existing surveillance authority, although an appeals court judge ruled this month that such authority was illegal.

False. Burr revealed what they want Friday night. They want to move bulky Internet production back to NSLs. They want to expand the current dragnet to include Internet calls and even straight IP (and, oddly, documents!), and they want to expand it well beyond its counterterrorism focus to include all foreign intelligence. They want to criminalize whistleblowing about this law in particular. They want to eliminate all special privacy protections — over the standard NSA ones — for US persons.

And very importantly, they want to use the claim to need a 2-year transition period to finally obtain the authorities for NSA to conduct the bulk collection they actually want to do, in which place they’ll be well positioned to claim having the government retain the data is most efficient.

I could go on. But after Friday night no journalists with any self-respect should propagate Mitch’s “straight reauthorization” canard, which — it was clear over a month ago — was only ever a negotiating tactic.

NYT also falsely claims Burr wants just Lone Wolf and Roving Wiretap made permanent.

Mr. Burr wants the so-called lone wolf and roving authorities to be made permanent to avoid cliffhangers like the one Congress finds itself in now. The House bill would extend them to December 2019.

The title to that section of Burr’s bill reads,

PERMANENT AUTHORITY FOR ACCESS TO BUSINESS RECORDS, ROVING SURVEILLANCE, AND INDIVIDUAL TERRORISTS AS AGENTS OF FOREIGN POWERS UNDER THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT OF 1978 [my emphasis]

And the language of it repeals both parts of both laws that include a sunset.

But the really absurd part of this story — and to be fair, NYT has to report these arguments as if they’re serious, and I should be grateful they have been recorded in all their absurdity — is that Burr and Nunes are now claiming that the largest phone companies in the US don’t know how to 1) store data, or 2) “search stored phone data after a warrant [actually, a Reasonable Articulable Suspicion order, not a warrant] is issued, then communicate the results to the government.”

The two men have said phone companies, which would collect the data instead of the N.S.A. under the USA Freedom Act, are not equipped to handle the task.

[snip]

Leaders of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees from both parties, along with supporters in the Senate, said they could assuage the concerns of Senate Republicans by adding a certification process to ensure that telephone companies had developed the technology they needed to store the reams of data that were now gathered by the government. If the technology could not be certified, a longer transition period would kick in.

Mr. Burr said he would like that period to be two years, a proposal not very likely to be accepted by the House.

“The question is whether the technology can be developed in time, over a six-month window,” Mr. Nunes said in an interview. “I think it can be. I was at N.S.A. reviewing this 10 days ago.”

He added: “We believe six months works, but it wouldn’t be bad to have a little longer.”

But even that change has irked lawmakers, who worked for months on the compromise that passed the House. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the technology in question — the ability to search stored phone data after a warrant is issued, then communicate the results to the government — was “a pretty minor deal” that could easily meet a certification deadline.

The men overseeing our intelligence community claim to not understand that phone companies store this information — and respond to lawful government requests for it — every day.

In truth, this is likely another ploy to expand the role of providers down the road (as happened under PRISM), after we’ve all become less vigilant — beyond simply providing phone records (as these silly Congressmen claim) to doing far more analysis.

After all, the only way these claims make sense, is if the government expects to get real pushback from providers going forward — and that’s not going to happen if all they want is call records delivered to the government, which telecoms have been doing forever.

So that’s the likely play: to set up some mechanism whereby the hawks can claim — in 6 months time — that telecoms are unwilling or unable (the same standard they use for drones killing!) to do what the government will ask. At which point we’ll be fighting to get the government out of an expanded dragnet business.

One more thing.

The Republicans also claim that the telecoms have been harassed by privacy advocates.

Republicans have also expressed a desire to protect the phone companies against harassment from privacy activists over their participation in a new surveillance program.

This is likely a bid to do something to shroud the dragnets (it won’t be just telecom going forward) in secrecy from here on out. Probably not the act-specific Espionage Act, like Burr wants, but probably some other means to ensure that no one ever gets standing to challenge what will still be an unconstitutional program going forward.

I guess they hope we won’t notice because we’re laughing at their other batty excuses so hard?

I’m Shocked, Shocked, to Find that Lying Is Going on in the Senate

As I noted here, given the content of the radical bill Richard Burr introduced on Friday, it appears likely that his claim Section 215 sIpported an IP dragnet was no misstatement, as he claimed when I called him on it. But that — and the misstatements Mitch McConnell made on Friday about the bill — are not the only lies the authoritarians have been telling.

Just after USA F-ReDux failed in the Senate Friday night and Barbara Boxer tried to call it back up for a vote, Mitch McConnell falsely claimed that Dianne Feinstein was involved in Burr’s radical bill. Senator Feinstein actually had to interrupt and point out that not only doesn’t she think Burr’s bill is the way to go, but that pushing for it might put all the expiring provisions at risk. (h/t Steven Aftergood for pulling Congressional Research Service records)

McCONNELL. Mr. President, the Senate has demonstrated that the House-passed bill lacks the support of 60 Senators. I would urge a “yes” vote on the 2-month extension. Senator Burr, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator Feinstein, the ranking member, as we all know, have been working on a proposal that they think would improve the version that the Senate has not accepted that the House sent over. It would allow the committee to work on this bill, refine it, and bring it before us for consideration. So the 2-month extension, it strikes me, would be in the best interest of getting an outcome that is acceptable to both the Senate and the House and hopefully the President.

[snip]

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, if I may a point of personal privilege. Mr. President, I would like to correct the majority leader, regretfully. I did not support the Burr bill. I do not believe that is the way to go. I have taken a good look at this. For those who want reform and want to prevent the government from holding the data, the FREEDOM Act is the only way to do it. The House has passed it. The President wants it. All of the intelligence personnel have agreed to it, and I think not to pass that bill is really to throw the whole program–that whole section 215 as well as the whole business records, the “lone wolf,” the roving wiretaps–into serious legal jeopardy.

That is, of course, precisely what has happened. In his bid to ram through Burr’s expanded dragnet, Mitch has now made it increasingly likely that all the expiring provisions will lapse on June 1.

Mitch McConnell Suggests He Wants a Bulk Document Collection System

On May 7, the very same day the Second Circuit ruled that Congress has to say specifically what a surveillance bill means for the bill to mean that thing, Richard Burr engaged in a staged colloquy on the Senate floor where he claimed that the Section 215 bulk collection program collects IP addresses. After Andrew Blake alerted me to that and I wrote it up, Burr stuffed the claim into the memory hole and claimed, dubiously, to have made a misstatement in a planned colloquy.

Then, after Mitch McConnell created a crisis by missing the first Section 215 reauthorization deadlines, Burr submitted a bill that would immediately permit the bulk collection of IP addresses, plus a whole lot more, falsely telling reporters this was a “compromise” bill that would ensure a smooth transition between the current (phone) dragnet and its replacement system.

Which strongly suggests Burr’s initial “misstatement” was simply an attempt to create a legislative record approving a vast expansion of the current dragnet that, when he got caught, led Burr to submit a bill that actually would implement that in fact.

This has convinced me we’re going to need to watch these authoritarians like hawks, to prevent them from creating the appearance of authorizing vast surveillance systems without general knowledge that’s what’s happening.

So I reviewed the speech Mitch made on Friday (this appears after 4:30 to 15:00; unlike Burr’s speech, the congressional record does reflect what Mitch actually said; h/t Steve Aftergood for Congressional Record transcript). And amid misleading claims about what the “compromise” bill Burr was working on, Mitch suggested something remarkable: among the data he’s demanding be retained are documents, not just call data.

I’ve placed the key part of Mitch’s comments below the rule, with my interspersed comments. As I show, one thing Mitch does is accuse providers of an unwillingness to provide data when in fact what he means is far more extensive cooperation. But I’m particularly interested in what he says about data retention:

The problem, of course, is that the providers have made it abundantly clear that they will not commit to retaining the data for any period of time as contemplated by the House-passed bill unless they are legally required to do so. There is no such requirement in the bill. For example, one provider said the following: “[We are] not prepared to commit to voluntarily retain documents for any particular period of time pursuant to the proposed USA FREEDOM Act if not otherwise required by law.”

Now, one credulous journalist told me the other day that telecoms were refusing to speak to the Administration at all, which he presumably parroted from sources like Mitch. That’s funny, because not only did the telecom key to making the program work — Verizon — provide testimony to Congress (which is worth reviewing, because Verizon Associate General Counsel — and former FBI lawyer — Michael Woods pointed to precisely what the dragnet would encompass under Burr’s bill, including VOIP, peer-to-peer, and IP collection), but Senator Feinstein has repeatedly made clear the telecoms have agreed with the President to keep data for two years.

Furthermore, McConnell’s quotation of this line from a (surely highly classified letter) cannot be relied on. Verizon at first refused to retain data before it made its data handshake with the President. So when did this provider send this letter, and does their stance remain the same? Mitch doesn’t say, and given how many other misleading comments he made in his speech, it’s unwise to trust him on this point.

Most curiously, though, look at what they’re refusing to keep. Not phone data! But documents.

Both USA F-ReDux and Burr’s bill only protect messaging contents, not other kinds of content (and Burr’s excludes anything that might be Dialing, Routing Addressing and Signaling data from his definition of content, which is the definition John Bates adopted in 2010 to be able to permit NSA to resume collecting Internet metadata in bulk). Both include remote computing services (cloud services) among the providers envisioned to be included not just under the bill, but under the “Call Detail Record” provision.

Perhaps there’s some other connotation for this use of the word “documents.” Remember, I think the major target of data retention mandates is Apple, because Jim Comey wants iMessage data that would only be available from their cloud.

But documents? What the hell kind of “Call Detail Records” is Mitch planning on here?

One more thing is remarkable about this. Mitch is suggesting it will take longer for providers to comply with this system than it took them to comply with Protect America Act. Yahoo, for example, challenged its orders and immediately refused to comply on November 8, 2007. Yet, even in spite of challenging that order and appealing, Yahoo started complying with it on May 5, 2008, that same 180-time frame envisioned here. And virtually all of the major providers already have some kind of compliance mechanism in place, either through PRISM (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) or upstream 702 compliance (AT&T and Verizon).
Continue reading

Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr’s Authoritarian Power Grab Fails

Last night, Mitch McConnell dealt himself a humiliating defeat. As I correctly predicted a month before events played out, McConnell tried to create a panic that would permit him and Richard Burr to demand changes — including iMessage retention, among other things — to USA F-ReDux. That is, in fact, what Mitch attempted to do, as is evident from the authoritarian power grab Burr released around 8:30 last night (that is, technically after the Administration had already missed the FISA Court deadline to renew the dragnet).

Contrary to a lot of absolutely horrible reporting on Burr’s bill, it does not actually resemble USA F-ReDux.

As I laid out here, it would start by gutting ECPA, such that the FBI could resume using NSLs to do the bulky Internet collection that moved to Section 215 production in 2009.

It also vastly expanded the application of the call record function (which it very explicitly applied to electronic communications providers, meaning it would include all Internet production, though that is probably what USA F-ReDux does implicitly), such that it could be used against Americans for any counterterrorism or counterintelligence (which includes leaks and cybersecurity) function, and for foreigners (which would chain onto Americans) for any foreign intelligence purpose. The chaining function includes the same vague language from USA F-ReDux which, in the absence of the limiting language in the House Judiciary Committee bill report, probably lets the government chain on session identifying information (like location and cookies, but possibly even things like address books) to do pattern analysis on providers’ data. Plus, the bill might even permit the government to do this chaining in provider data, because it doesn’t define a key “permit access” term.

Burr’s bill applies EO 12333 minimization procedures (and notice), not the stronger Section 215 ones Congress mandated in 2006; while USA F-ReDux data will already be shared far more widely than it is now, this would ensure that no defendant ever gets to challenge this collection. It imposes a 3-year data retention mandate (which would be a significant new burden on both Verizon and Apple). It appears to flip the amicus provision on its head, such that if Verizon or Apple challenged retention or any other part of the program, the FISC could provide a lawyer for the tech companies and tell that lawyer to fight for retention. And in the piece de la resistance, the bill creates its very own Espionage Act imposing 10 year prison terms for anyone who reveals precisely what’s happening in this expanded querying function at providers.

It is, in short, the forced-deputization of the nation’s communications providers to conduct EO 12333 spying on Americans within America.

Had Mitch had his way, after both USA F-ReDux and his 2-month straight reauthorization failed to get cloture, he would have asked for a week extension, during which the House would have been forced to come back to work and accept — under threat of “going dark” — some of the things demanded in Burr’s bill.

It didn’t work out.

Sure, both USA F-ReDux (57-42) and the short-term reauthorization (45-54) failed cloture votes.

But as it was, USA F-ReDux had far more support than the short-term reauthorization. Both McConnell and Rand Paul voted against both, for very different reasons. The difference in the vote results, however, was that Joe Donnelly (D), Jeff Flake (R), Ron Johnson (R), James Lankford (R), Bill Nelson (D), Tim Scott (R), and Dan Sullivan (R) voted yes to both. McConnell’s preferred option didn’t even get a majority of the vote, because he lost a chunk of his members.

Then McConnell played the hand he believed would give himself and Burr leverage. The plan — as I stated — was to get a very short term reauthorization passed and in that period force through changes with the House (never mind that permitting that to happen might have cost Boehner his Speakership, that’s what McConnell and Burr had in mind).

First, McConnell asked for unanimous consent to pass an extension to June 8. (h/t joanneleon for making the clip) But Paul, reminding that this country’s founders opposed General Warrants and demanding 2 majority vote amendments, objected. McConnell then asked for a June 5 extension, to which Ron Wyden objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 3. Martin Heinrich objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 2. Paul objected.

McConnell’s bid failed. And he ultimately scheduled the Senate to return on Sunday afternoon, May 31.

By far the most likely outcome at this point is that enough Senators — likely candidates are Mark Kirk, Angus King, John McCain, Joni Ernst, or Susan Collins — flip their vote on USA F-ReDux, which will then be rushed to President Obama just hours before Section 215 (and with it, Lone Wolf and Roving Wiretaps) expires on June 1. But even that (because of when McConnell scheduled it) probably requires Paul to agree to an immediate vote.

But if not, it won’t be the immediate end of the world.

On this issue, too, the reporting has been horrible, even to almost universal misrepresentation of what Jim Comey said about the importance of expiring provisions — I’ve laid out what he really said and what it means here. Comey cares first and foremost about the other Section 215 uses, almost surely the bulky Internet collection that moved there in 2009. But those orders, because they’re tied to existing investigations (of presumably more focused subject than the standing counterterrorism investigation to justify the phone dragnet), they will be grand-fathered at least until whatever expiration date they have hits, if not longer. So FBI will be anxious to restore that authority (or move it back to NSLs as Burr’s bill would do), especially since unlike the phone dragnet, there aren’t other ways to get the data. But there’s some time left to do that.

Comey also said the Roving Wiretap is critical. I’m guessing that’s because they use it to target things like Tor relays. But if that’s the primary secretly redefined function, they likely have learned enough about the Tor relays they’re parked on to get individual warrants. And here, too, the FBI likely won’t have to detask until expiration days on these FISA orders come due.

As for the phone dragnet and the Lone Wolf? Those are less urgent, according to Comey.

Now, that might help the Republicans who want to jam through some of Burr’s demands, since most moderate reformers assume the phone dragnet is the most important function that expires. Except that McConnell and others have spent so long pretending that this is about a phone dragnet that in truth doesn’t really work, that skittish Republicans are likely to want to appear to do all they can to keep the phone dragnet afloat.

As I said, the most likely outcome is that a number of people flip their vote and help pass USA F-ReDux.

But as with last night’s “debate,” no one really knows for sure.

The Paul Filibuster

As some of you were live-commenting yesterday, Rand Paul conducted a 10.5 hour filibuster of the USA F-ReDux last night.

A lot of journalists are calling it meaningless. But it may not be. As Sunlight Foundation explains, by occupying the floor for the balance of yesterday, Paul may have prevented Mitch McConnell from invoking cloture on his short-term reauthorization, leaving only USA F-ReDux as the only legislation that might possibly get through the Senate before House members start leaving for recess tonight.

What does the currently ongoing filibuster have to do with this? It’s not just that it stalls the vote in the Senate and wedges it up closer to Section 215’s expiration. If Paul and his allies get to midnight tonight, as far as we can tell, it stops the Senate from considering any bill other than the House-passed USA FREEDOM Act, or, by default, sunset before Saturday. Without this filibuster, McConnell could have moved today to proceed on from the trade vote to USA FREEDOM or the 2-month reauthorization (though the Senate will have a cloture vote on trade tomorrow no matter what), and in turn begun the cloture process, which would have matured Friday. While the House is supposed to be out on Friday, keeping the House for another day, versus through the weekend and into Memorial Day, is a bit different.

Tomorrow, two things start to kick in: NSA has to start detasking from collection, and the deadline to apply for a new FISC order passes (the latter of which I first noted months ago).

All that said, I suspect there was an underlying deal here.

That’s true because the 9 or so people who supported Paul in this filibuster were all USA F-ReDux supporters (and of them, only Ron Wyden has called for significant amendment process, which is what Paul said he was fighting for with his filibuster).

More telling, Paul stopped 11 minutes short of midnight. And McConnell seemed to expect that — he had Bill Cassidy come on the floor to submit the highways bill for cloture.

In other words, McConnell could have, but didn’t, file cloture on his short-term reauthorization last night.

It’s quite possible that the Senators from KY made an agreement to get themselves out of holes they had created for themselves, Paul, in pushing against the bill, and McConnell, in leveraging such that sunset of Section 215 became a real possibility. By appearing to be left with no choice but USAF, McConnell could then whip it, and ensure it passes, to be quickly sent to Obama for signature. If McConnell really whipped it, Paul could even cast a symbolic vote against it.

If that ends up happening, Paul’s filibuster will not be a waste. It would have prevented — or been the tactic that allowed all sides to accept the prevention — of the bill getting worse in the Senate, which was always a real possibility.

But no one should be breaking out tequila to celebrate a PATRIOT Sunset yet.

Update: McConnell apparently just filed cloture on his short-term reauthorization. That would put the vote on Saturday, with the House having to come back to deal with it.

Mitch McConnell Prepares to Reject a 6-Month Window to Set Up Dragnet Replacement

The surveillance hawks are out feeding the propaganda machine.

First there’s Eli Lake claiming that, if Congress were to pass legislation newly immunizing and compensating providers to conduct two-hop spying on Americans, most of whom would be innocent, it would amount to “tak[ing] back some of the extraordinary powers it granted to the executive branch [by…] revok[ing] the NSA’s authority to collect telephone records in bulk.” The implication is that Congress affirmatively granted the NSA that authority.

Of course, that’s not what happened. First, the Bush Administration secretly assumed that authority as it rolled out Stellar Wind, without even fully informing Congress about it or considering the legal implications of collecting Internet metadata via telecom switches. Years later, DOJ found that part of the program unlawful. When DOJ asked the FISA Court to approve that collection — well, in truth, it didn’t ask; DOJ told the court it “shall” authorize the collection under the terms of the Pen Register statute — it specifically refused to go to Congress to get it approved. “Government cannot pursue that route because seeking legislation would inevitably compromise the secrecy of the collection program the Government wishes to undertake,” the government’s application claimed.

It took years after getting a secret court to rubber stamp, twice (in the second instance, without even writing an opinion to explain how the Section 215 statute dictating relevance might be deemed to mean all) these new dragnet collections before the Executive briefed the full Intelligence Committees, and the Executive didn’t share the materials on the program until obligated to do so by the FISA Amendments Act. Though well into 2010, the Executive was withholding documents mandated under FAA for disclosure to the oversight committees. The Executive did provide short, in some ways misleading, summaries to be shared with Congress before they reauthorized the PATRIOT Act. But not only weren’t those summaries made easily available to members, in 2011, Mike Rogers didn’t pass it on, ensuring that a sufficient number of Congressmen to make the difference in the vote could not be informed. And the briefings held instead were affirmatively misleading.

This is what Eli Lake considers Congress “granting the executive branch authority to collect[] telephone records in bulk,” which is where he gets the claim that in shifting the program to providers it would be taking away an authority.

For all its other faults and, at times, outright inaccuracies, Lake accidentally reveals the problem with Mitch McConnell’s logic calling for a 2-month reauthorization.

Opponents of the bill raise one technical concern: The legislation gives the NSA 180 days to build a new computer architecture for querying the phone company databases. It’s a tricky matter. Phone companies store the records of only their customers, whereas the NSA stored all of these records in one database.

Even Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the bill to curb bulk collection, acknowledged this could be a problem. Speaking to reporters Tuesday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Schiff said: “I think if we reach an impasse on the authority sunsets, then the NSA will have some responsibility for that breach. I have been urging the NSA for quite some time now to begin the process for developing the process to take data from different providers so they can talk to each other.”

If USA F-ReDux were to pass tomorrow, NSA would have 6 months to set up the replacement (though as Schiff notes, they could have been implementing the new plan for months). Continue reading

GOP Brought in Guy Who Authorized Dragnet to Talk Dragnets

I’m far more alarmed by this tidbit in the latest report on the fight over USA F-ReDux than many who are commenting on it.

McConnell’s presser came following Senate lunches, during which former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under George W. Bush, briefed Republicans on the importance of the surveillance authorities. While defending the NSA’s phone-records dragnet, Mukasey did say a recent federal appeals court deeming the program illegal could complicate McConnell’s efforts to renew the Patriot Act without changes, given the legal uncertainty that could result, according to two senators present.

“He did recommend some acknowledgment of the decision so that it is addressed in the legislation,” Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said.

The Republicans sat down to talk about dragnet surveillance and they brought in Michael Mukasey, who not only presided over the expansion of Stellar Wind in the form of FISA Amendments Act, but authorized SPCMA after some previous DOJ officials appear to have refused to.

SPCMA, you’ll recall, is the authority to contact chain on US-person metadata collected under EO 12333 that current FBI General Counsel James Baker refused to authorize in an earlier position at DOJ in 2006 but which Mukasey signed in early 2008 (and DOJ then promptly hid from FISC as it was considering whether the contact chaining that provided particularly under PRISM was constitutionally sound). The actual authorization for it languished for several months, half-signed, before Mukasey signed it in the early part of his tenure as Attorney General.

There is reason to believe SPCMA — that is, Internet data collected overseas, in addition to telephone metadata — is where a lot of the Internet chaining currently occurs, with almost none of the controls (or subject limitations) that existed under the PATRIOT-Authorized Internet dragnet. There is also reason to believe that USA F-ReDux envisions the government federating queries of metadata collected under its new Call Detail Record function with SPCMA data. Finally, I suspect that the Second Circuit decision on Section 215 may have repercussions for SPCMA as well.

In other words, I find it fairly alarming that GOP brought in Michael Mukasey and his advice was to make a nod to the Second Circuit even while talking about why the authorities — plural — were important.

Which is to say I don’t think his acknowledgment that Courts are Courts is very comforting, given that he appears to recommend sustaining existing “surveillance authorities” in current bulk form.

USA F-ReDux Is Non-Exclusive, but the Second Circuit Might Be

I’m still trying to figure out WTF Mitch McConnell is doing with his Senate machinations over USA F-ReDux. Currently, he has both his short-term reauthorization and USA F-ReDux prepped for a vote, which probably means he’ll bring USA F-ReDux up for cloture or a vote, show that it doesn’t have enough support, and then use that to scaremonger the short-term reauthorization through as a way to wring more concessions out of the House.

Still, given what a dead-ender he is on a bill, USA F-ReDux, that gives the Intelligence Community so many goodies, I can’t help but wonder if there’s another explanation for his intransigence. I can think of one other possibility.

The House Judiciary Committee made it clear USA F-ReDux would be the exclusive means to obtain prospective Call Detail Records under Section 215:

This new mechanism is the only circumstance in which Congress contemplates the prospective, ongoing use of Section 501 of FISA in this manner.

But it made it equally clear it is not the exclusive means to obtain Call Detail Records. That’s because the report envisions conducting federated queries including “metadata [the government] already lawfully possess.”

The government may require the production of up to two ‘‘hops’’—i.e., the call detail records associated with the initial seed telephone number and call detail records (CDRs) associated with the CDRs identified in an initial ‘‘hop.’’ Subparagraph (F)(iii) provides that the government can obtain the first set of CDRs using the specific selection term approved by the FISC. In addition, the government can use the FISC-approved specific selection term to identify CDRs from metadata it already lawfully possesses. Together, the CDRs produced by the phone companies and those identified independently by the government constitute the first ‘‘hop.’’

I suggested here that that other “lawfully possessed metadata” probably consisted of data collected under EO 12333 (and permissible for chaining on US persons under SPCMA) and PRISM metadata.

But maybe that’s not all it includes. Maybe, the government has devise a way by which AT&T (or some other backbone provider) will still provide phone records in bulk on a daily basis? Maybe — as Richard Burr claimed before he later unclaimed — the government secretly maintains an IP dragnet under some other authority?

If that was the plan (though keep in mind, USA F-ReDux passed the House after the Second Circuit decision), then the Second Circuit may have ruined that effort. The ruling should limit all collection under a “relevant to” standard, not just that conducted under Section 215. And, as Faiza Patel argued, the decision should also affect collection where the government has dodged Fourth Amendment issues by focusing on “searches” rather than “seizures.”

[A]s Jennifer Daskal explained last Friday, “collection matters.” The Second Circuit rejected the government’s contention that there was no cognizable injury until plaintiffs’ phone records were actually analyzed and reviewed. It ruled that collection is properly analyzed as “seizure,” which if unlawful constitutes a separate injury from the “search” that takes place when records are analyzed either by a human being or a computer.

As the Supreme Court has recognized, in Fourth Amendment cases the analysis of standing is intertwined with the merits question of whether there has been an invasion of a protected privacy interest. Thus, the Second Circuit’s position on collection could have serious implications for other government programs beyond the standing question.

I’ve already suggested the decision might create problems for the virgin birth DOJ secretly gave to EO 12333 data used in SPCMA.

But who knows what else it applies to?

After all, USA F-ReDux was written so as to allow other dragnets (which is what EO 12333 is, after all). But the Second Circuit may pose problems for such dragnets that USA F-ReDux did not.

Going back to Richard Burr’s odd colloquy — which his office’s excuses simply cannot rationally explain — I think it (very remotely) possible the government is dragnetting IP addresses (perhaps for cybersecurity rather than counterterrorism purposes), but worries it has lost authority to do so with the Second Circuit decision. If so, it might be using this fight over counterterrorism data collection to lay congressional support for broader dragnet collection, to be able to sustain whatever other dragnets it has in place.

How the Second Circuit, FISC, and the Telecoms Might Respond to McConnell’s USA F-ReDux Gambit

Update: Jennifer Granick (who unlike me, is a lawyer) says telecoms will be subject to suit if they continue to comply with dragnet orders. 

Any company that breaches confidentiality except as required by law is liable for damages and attorneys’ fees under 47 U.S.C. 206. And there is a private right of action under 47 U.S.C. 207.

Note that there’s no good faith exception in the statute, no immunity for acting pursuant to court order. Rather, the company is liable unless it was required by law to disclose. So Verizon could face a FISC 215 dragnet order on one side and an order from the Southern District of New York enjoining the dragnet on the other. Is Verizon required by law to disclose in those circumstances? If not, the company could be liable. And did I mention the statute provides for attorneys’ fees?

Everything is different now than it was last week. Reauthorization won’t protect the telecoms from civil liability. It won’t enable the dragnet. As of last Thursday, the dragnet is dead, unless a phone company decides to put its shareholders’ money on the line to maintain its relationships with the intelligence community.

Last night, Mitch McConnell introduced a bill for a 2-month straight reauthorization of the expiring PATRIOT provisions as well as USA F-ReDux under a rule that bypasses Committee structure, meaning he will be able to bring that long-term straight reauthorization, that short term one, or USA F-ReDux to the floor next week.

Given that a short term reauthorization would present a scenario not envisioned in Gerard Lynch’s opinion ruling the Section 215 dragnet unlawful, it has elicited a lot of discussion about how the Second Circuit, FISC, and the telecoms might respond in case of a short term reauthorization. But these discussions are almost entirely divorced from some evidence at hand. So I’m going to lay out what we know about both past telecom and FISA Court behavior.

Because of the details I lay out below, I predict that so long as Congress looks like it is moving towards an alternative, both the telecoms and the FISC will continue the phone dragnet in the short term, and the Second Circuit won’t weigh in either.

The phone dragnet will continue for another six months even under USA F-ReDux

As I pointed out here, even if USA F-ReDux passed tomorrow, the phone dragnet would continue for another 6 months. That’s because the bill gives the government 180 days — two dragnet periods — to set up the new system.

(a) IN GENERAL.—The amendments made by sections 101 through 103 shall take effect on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(b) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this Act shall be construed to alter or eliminate the authority of the Government to obtain an order under title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 24 1861 et seq.) as in effect prior to the effective date described in subsection (a) during the period ending on such effective date.

The Second Circuit took note of USA F-ReDux specifically in its order, so it would be hard to argue that it doesn’t agree Congress has the authority to provide time to put an alternative in place. Which probably means (even though I oppose Mitch’s short-term reauth in most scenarios) that the Second Circuit isn’t going to balk — short of the ACLU making a big stink — at a short term reauth for the purported purpose of better crafting a bill that reflects the intent of Congress. (Though the Second Circuit likely won’t look all that kindly on Mitch’s secret hearing the other day, which violates the standards of debate the Second Circuit laid out.)

Heck, the Second Circuit waited 8 months — and one failed reform effort — to lay out its concerns about the phone dragnet’s legality that were, in large part, fully formed opinions at least September’s hearing. The Second Circuit wants Congress to deal with this and they’re probably okay with Congress taking a few more months to do so.

FISC has already asked for briefing on any reauthorization

A number of commentators have also suggested that the Administration could just use the grandfather clause in the existing sunset to continue collection or might blow off the Appeals Court decision entirely.

But the FISC is not sitting dumbly by, oblivious to the debate before Congress and the Courts. As I laid out here, in his February dragnet order, James Boasberg required timely briefing from the government in each of 3 scenarios:

  • A ruling from an Appellate Court
  • Passage of USA F-ReDux introduces new issues of law that must be considered
  • A plan to continue production under the grandfather clause

And to be clear, the FISC has not issued such an order in any of the publicly released dragnet orders leading up to past reauthorizations, not even in advance of the 2009-2010 reauthorizations, which happened at a much more fraught time from the FISC’s perspective (because FISC had had to closely monitor the phone dragnet production for 6 months and actually shut down the Internet dragnet in fall 2009). The FISC clearly regards this PATRIOT sunset different than past ones and plans to at least make a show of considering the legal implications of it deliberately.

FISC does take notice of other courts

Of course, all that raises questions about whether FISC feels bound by the Second Circuit decision — because, of course, it has its very own appellate court (FISCR) which would be where any binding precedent would come from.

There was an interesting conversation on that topic last week between (in part) Office of Director of National Intelligence General Counsel Bob Litt and ACLU’s Patrick Toomey (who was part of the team that won the Second Circuit decision). That conversation largely concluded that FISC would probably not be bound by the Second Circuit, but Litt’s boss, James Clapper (one of the defendants in the suit) would be if the Second Circuit ever issued an injunction.

Sunlight Foundation’s Sean Vitka: Bob, I have like a jurisdictional question that I honestly don’t know the answer to. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. They say that this is unlawful. Obviously there’s the opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court. But, the FISA Court of Review is also an Appeals Court. Does the FISC have to listen to that opinion if it stands?

Bob Litt: Um, I’m probably not the right person to ask that. I think the answer is no. I don’t think the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has direct authority over the FISA Court. I don’t think it’s any different than a District Court in Idaho wouldn’t have to listen to the Second Circuit’s opinion. It would be something they would take into account. But I don’t think it’s binding upon them.

Vitka: Is there — Does that change at all given that the harms that the Second Circuit acknowledged are felt in that jurisdiction?

Litt: Again, I’m not an expert in appellate jurisdiction. I don’t think that’s relevant to the question of whether the Second Circuit has binding authority over a court that is not within the Second Circuit. I don’t know Patrick if you have a different view on that?

Third Way’s Mieke Eoyang: But the injunction would be, right? If they got to a point where they issued an injunction that would be binding…

Litt: It wouldn’t be binding on the FISA Court. It would be binding on the persons who received the —

Eoyong: On the program itself.

Patrick Toomey: The defendants in the case are the agency officials. And so an injunction issued by the Second Circuit would be directed at those officials.

But there is reason to believe — even beyond FISC’s request for briefing on this topic — that FISC will take notice of the Second Circuit’s decision, if not abide by any injunction it eventually issues.

That’s because, twice before, it has even taken notice of magistrate judge decisions.

The first known example came in the weeks before the March 2006 reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act would go into effect. During 2005, several magistrate judges had ruled that the government could not add a 2703(d) order to a pen register to obtain prospective cell site data along with other phone data. By all appearances, the government was doing the same with the equivalent FISA orders (this application of a “combined” Business Record and Pen Register order is redacted in the 2008 DOJ IG Report on Section 215, but contextually it’s fairly clear this is close to what happened). Those magistrate decisions became a problem when, in 2005, Congress limited Section 215 order production to that which could be obtained with a grand jury subpoena. Effectively, the magistrates had said you couldn’t get prospective cell site location with just a subpoena, which therefore would limit whether FBI could get cell site location with a Section 215 order.

While it is clear that FISC required briefing on this point, it’s not entirely clear what FISC’s response was. For a variety of reasons, it appears FISC stopped these combined application sometime in 2006 — the reauthorization went into effect in March 2006 — though not immediately (which suggests, in the interim, DOJ just found a new shell to put its location data collection under).

The other time FISC took notice of magistrate opinions pertained to Post Cut Through Dialed Digits (those are the things like pin and extension numbers you dial after your call or Internet connection has been established). From 2006 through 2009, some of the same magistrates ruled the government must set its pen register collection to avoid collecting PCTDD. By that point, FISC appears to have already ruled the government could collect that data, but would have to deal with it through minimization. But the FISC appears to have twice required the government to explain whether and how its minimization of PCTDD did not constitute the collection of content, though it appears that in each case, FISC permitted the government to go on collecting PCTDD under FISA pen registers. (Note, this is another ruling that may be affected by the Second Circuit’s focus on the seizure, not access, of data.)

In other words, even on issues not treating FISC decisions specifically, the FISC has historically taken notice of decisions made in courts that have no jurisdiction over its decisions (and in one case, FISC appears to have limited government production as a result). So it would be a pretty remarkable deviation from that past practice for FISC to completely blow off the Second Circuit decision, even if it may not feel bound by it.

Verizon responds to court orders, but in half-assed fashion

Finally, there’s the question of how the telecoms will react to the Second Circuit decision. And even there, we have some basis for prediction.

In January 2014, after receiving the Secondary Order issued in the wake of Judge Richard Leon’s decision in Klayman v. Obama that the dragnet was unconstitutional, Verizon made a somewhat half-assed challenge to the order.

Leon issued his decision December 16. Verizon did not ask the FISC for guidance (which makes sense because they are only permitted to challenge orders).

Verizon got a new Secondary Order after the January 3 reauthorization. It did not immediately challenge the order.

It only got around to doing so on January 22 (interestingly, a few days after ODNI exposed Verizon’s role in the phone dragnet a second time), and didn’t do several things — like asking for a hearing or challenging the legality of the dragnet under 50 USC 1861 as applied — that might reflect real concern about anything but the public appearance of legality. (Note, that timing is of particular interest, given that the very next day, on January 23, PCLOB would issue its report finding the dragnet did not adhere to Section 215 generally.)

Indeed, this challenge might not have generated a separate opinion if the government weren’t so boneheaded about secrecy.

Verizon’s petition is less a challenge of the program than an inquiry whether the FISC has considered Leon’s opinion.

It may well be the case that this Court, in issuing the January 3,2014 production order, has already considered and rejected the analysis contained in the Memorandum Order. [redacted] has not been provided with the Court’s underlying legal analysis, however, nor [redacted] been allowed access to such analysis previously, and the order [redacted] does not refer to any consideration given to Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion. In light of Judge Leon’s Opinion, it is appropriate [redacted] inquire directly of the Court into the legal basis for the January 3, 2014 production order,

As it turns out, Judge Thomas Hogan (who will take over the thankless presiding judge position from Reggie Walton next month) did consider Leon’s opinion in his January 3 order, as he noted in a footnote.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 10.49.42 AM

And that’s about all the government said in its response to the petition (see paragraph 3): that Hogan considered it so the FISC should just affirm it.

Verizon didn’t know that Hogan had considered the opinion, of course, because it never gets Primary Orders (as it makes clear in its petition) and so is not permitted to know the legal logic behind the dragnet unless it asks nicely, which is all this amounted to at first.

Ultimately, Verizon asked to see proof that FISC had considered Leon’s decision. But it did not do any of the things people think might happen here — it did not immediately cease production, it did not itself challenge the legality of the dragnet, and it did not even ask for a hearing.

Verizon just wanted to make sure it was covered; it did not, apparently, show much concern about continued participation in it.

And this is somewhat consistent with the request for more information Sprint made in 2009.

So that’s what Verizon would do if it received another Secondary Order in the next few weeks. Until such time as the Second Circuit issues an injunction, I suspect Verizon would likely continue producing records, even though it might ask to see evidence that FISC had considered the Second Circuit ruling before issuing any new orders.

USA F-ReDux: The Risks Ahead

Sometime after 2 today, the House will pass USA F-ReDux by a large margin. Last night the Rules Committee rejected all amendments, including two (a version of the Massie-Lofgren amendment prohibiting back doors and a Kevin Yoder amendment that would improved ECPA protections) that have majority support in the House.

After the bill passes the House today it will go to the Senate where Mitch McConnell will have his way with it.

What happens in the Senate is anyone’s guess.

One reason no one knows what Mitch has planned is because most people haven’t figured out what Mitch really wants. I think there are 3 possibilities:

  • He actually wants USA F-ReDux with some tweaks (about which more below) and the threat of a straight reauthorization is just a tactic to push through those tweaks; this makes the most sense because USA F-ReDux actually gives the IC things they want and need that they don’t currently have
  • There is something the government is doing — a bulk IP program, for example — that Mitch and Burr plan to provide Congressional sanction for even while basically adopting USA F-ReDux as a limit on Section 215 (but not other authorities); the problem with this plan is that secret briefings like the Administration offered the Senate, but not the House, last night don’t seem to meet the terms of ratification described by the Second Circuit
  • The Second Circuit decision threatens another program, such as SPCMA (one basis for Internet chaining involving US persons right now), that the Senate believes it needs to authorize explicitly and that’s what the straight reauthorization is about
  • [Update] I’m reminded by Harley Geiger that Mitch might just be playing to let 215 sunset so he can create a panic that will let him push through a worse bill. That’s possible, but the last time such an atmosphere of panic reigned, after Congress failed to replace Protect American Act in 2008, it worked to reformers’ advantage, to the extent that any cosmetic reform can be claimed to be a win.

I think — though am not certain — that it’s the first bullet, though Burr’s so-called misstatement the other day makes me wonder. If so Mitch’s procedural move is likely to consist of starting with his straight reauthorization but permitting amendments, Patrick Leahy introducing USA F-ReDux as an amendment, Ron Wyden and Rand Paul unsuccessfully pushing some amendments to improve the bill, and Richard Burr adding tweaks to USA F-ReDux that will make it worse. After that, it’s not clear how the House will respond.

Which brings me to what I think Burr would want to add.

As I’ve said before, I think hawks in the Senate would like to have data mandates, rather than the data handshake that Dianne Feinstein keeps talking about. While last year bill supporters — including corporate backers — suggested that would kill the bill, I wonder whether everyone has grown inured to the idea of data retention, given that they’ve been silent about the data handshake since November.

I also suspect the IC would like to extend the CDR authority to non-terrorism functions, even including drug targets (because they probably were already using it as such).

The Senate may try to tweak the Specific Selection Term language to broaden it, but it’s already very very permissive.

I’m also wondering if the Senate will introduce language undermining the limiting language HJC put in its report.

Those are the predictable additions Burr might want. There are surely a slew more (and there will be very little time to review it to figure out the intent behind what they add).

The two big questions there are 1) are any of those things significant enough to get the House to kill it if and when it gets the bill back and 2) will the House get that chance at all?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz The Feds Feds targeted Denny Hastert, and then looked for the crime. Not exactly the proper use if US criminal law http://t.co/mkh3qMsedr
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bmaz And how is Bahlul coming along? https://t.co/5zCPReJhNl
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emptywheel @walterwkatz Russia has more reason than just their own significant corruption to be pissed, bc of that precedent. @ScottGreenfield
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emptywheel @walterwkatz One big reason for EDNY, I think, is bc of JFK precedents like Bout. @ScottGreenfield
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bmaz This is spot on: https://t.co/9drOYgC0ZJ
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bmaz @Taniel Liberals can't stand Kyrsten Sinema either, but she has far better statewide recognition+is a light years better campaigner than AK
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bmaz @Taniel I don't think Kirkpatrick can beat either McCain or Salmon. She has no statewide recognition, and most liberals don't care for her.
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bmaz Dissembling security+foreign policy stooge inadvertently proves in @WSJ why Edward Snowden is an international hero http://t.co/7agRcYSkHN
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bmaz RT @chriswnews: Plenty of extra security eyes outside #Phoenix Islamic ctr w/ a protest planned here later. #12News http://t.co/xM4y4C0iWd
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emptywheel @ThePeoplesBacon Adelson = Hillary's oligarchs: Adelson's trained seals = Hillary @zappin_liberals @AaronMDellutri
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emptywheel @zappin_liberals You geniuses forget that every trained seal Adelson bought for Bibi was also in office. @ThePeoplesBacon @AaronMDellutri
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