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Senate Narrowly Avoids Voting Themselves to Become “Typos”

The McCain (Cornyn) amendment to the Judiciary Appropriations bill that would let them get Electronic Communication Transaction Records with a National Security Letter just narrowly failed to get cloture, with Dan Sullivan flipping his vote to yes near the end but Mike Crapo, a likely no vote, not voting. The final vote was 59-37.

The floor debate leading up to the vote featured a few notable exchanges. Richard Burr was an absolutely douchebag, saying Ron “Wyden is consistently against providing LE the tools it needs to defend the American people.” He did so in a speech admitting that, “My colleague says this wouldn’t stop SB or Orlando. He’s 100% correct.”

Burr also insisted that we can’t let the Lone Wolf provision, which allegedly has never been used, expire. It was extended just last year and doesn’t expire until 2019.

More interesting though was the debate between Burr and Leahy over whether the FBI can’t obtain ECTRs because of a typo in the law as passed in 1993. Leahy basically described that Congress had affirmatively decided not to include ECTRs in NSLs (implicit in this, Congress also did not decide to include it in the 2001 expansion). Burr claimed that Congress meant to include it but didn’t in some kind of oversight.

Here’s how Mazie Hirono and Martin Heinrich described the debate in the report on the Intelligence Authorization, which has a version of the ECTR change.

The FBI has compared expanding these authorities to fixing a “typo” in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

However, during consideration of ECPA reform legislation in 1993, the House Judiciary Committee said in its committee report that “Exempt from the judicial scrutiny normally
required for compulsory process, the national security letter is an extraordinary device. New applications are disfavored.”

The House Judiciary Committee report also makes clear that the bill’s changes to Section 2709(b) of ECPA were a “modification of the language originally proposed by the
FBI.”

This does not support claims that the removal of the ECTR language was a “typo.”

Burr effectively argued that because law enforcement wanted ECTRs to be included back in 1993, they were meant to be included, and Congress’ exclusion of them was just a typo.

In short, a member of the Senate just argued that if Congress affirmatively decides not to capitulate to every demand of law enforcement, it must be considered a “typo” and not legally binding law.

For the moment, the Senate voted down making itself a “typo,” but Mitch McConnell filed a motion to reconsider, meaning he can bring the vote back up as soon as he arm twists one more vote.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why Is the Government Poison-Pilling ECPA Reform?

Back in 2009, the Obama Administration had Jeff Sessions gut an effort by Dianne Feinstein to gut an effort by Patrick Leahy to gut an effort by Russ Feingold to halt the phone and Internet dragnet programs (as well as, probably, some Post Cut Through Dialed Digit collections we don’t yet know about).

See what Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–did in complete secrecy and behind the cover of Jeff Sessions’ skirts the other night?

They absolutely gutted the minimization procedures tied to pen registers! Pen registers are almost certainly the means by which the government is conducting the data mining of American people (using the meta-data from their calls and emails to decide whether to tap them fully). And Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–simply gutted any requirement that the government get rid of all this meta-data when they’re done with it. They gutted any prohibitions against sharing this information widely. In fact, they’ve specified that judges should only require minimization procedures in extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, there is very little limiting what they can do with your data and mine once they’ve collected it. [no idea why I was spelling Sessions with 3 ses]

At each stage of this gutting process, Feingold’s effort to end bulk collection got watered down until, with Sessons’ amendments, the Internet dragnet was permitted to operate as it had been. Almost the very same time this happened, NSA’s General Counsel finally admitted that every single record the agency had collected under the dragnet program had violated the category restrictions set back in 2004. Probably 20 days later, Reggie Walton would shut down the dragnet until at least July 2010.

But before that happened, the Administration made what appears to be — now knowing all that we know now — an effort to legalize the illegal Internet dragnet that had replaced the prior illegal Internet dragnet.

I think that past history provides an instructive lens with which to review what may happen to ECPA reform on Thursday. A version of the bill, which would require the government to obtain a warrant for any data held on the cloud, passed the House unanimously. But several amendments have been added to the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee that I think are designed to serve as poison pills to kill the bill.

The first is language that would let the FBI resume obtaining Electronic Communication Transaction Records with just a National Security Letter (similar language got added to the Intelligence Authorization; I’ll return to this issue, which I think has been curiously reported).

The second is language that would provide a vast emergency exception to the new warrant requirement, as described by Jennifer Daskal in this post.

[T]here has been relatively little attention to an equally, if not more, troubling emergency authorization provision being offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions. (An excellent post by Al Gidari and op-ed by a retired DC homicide detective are two examples to the contrary.)

The amendment would allow the government to bypass the warrant requirement in times of claimed emergency. Specifically, it would mandate that providers turn over sought-after data in response to a claimed emergency from federal, state, or local law enforcement officials. Under current law, companies are permitted, but not required, to comply with such emergency — and warrantless — requests for data.

There are two huge problems with this proposal. First, it appears to be responding to a problem that doesn’t exist. Companies already have discretion to make emergency disclosures to governmental officials, and proponents of the legislation have failed to identify a single instance in which providers failed to disclose sought-after information in response to an actual, life-threatening emergency. To the contrary, the data suggest that providers do in fact regularly cooperate in response to emergency requests. (See the discussion here.)

Second, and of particular concern, the emergency disclosure mandate operates with no judicial backstop. None. Whatsoever. This is in direct contrast with the provisions in both the Wiretap Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that require companies to comply with emergency disclosure orders, but then also require subsequent post-hoc review by a court. Under the Wiretap Act, an emergency order has to be followed up with an application for a court authorization within 48 hours (see 18 U.S.C. § 2518(7)). And under FISA, an emergency order has to be followed with an application to the court within 7 days (see 50 U.S.C. § 1805(5)). If the order isn’t filed or the court application denied, the collection has to cease.

The proposed Sessions amendment, by contrast, allows the government to claim emergency and compel production of emails, without any back-end review.

Albert Gidari notes that providers are already getting a ton of emergency requests, and a good number of them turn out to be unfounded.

For the last 15 years, providers have routinely assisted law enforcement in emergency cases by voluntarily disclosing stored content and transactional information as permitted by section 2702 (b)(8) and (c)(4) of Title 18. Providers recently began including data about emergency disclosures in their transparency reports and the data is illuminating. For example, for the period January to June 2015, Google reports that it received 236 requests affecting 351 user accounts and that it produced data in 69% of the cases. For July to December 2015, Microsoft reports that it received 146 requests affecting 226 users and that it produced content in 8% of the cases, transactional information in 54% of the cases and that it rejected about 20% of the requests. For the same period, Facebook reports that it received 855 requests affecting 1223 users and that it produced some data in response in 74% of the cases. Traditional residential and wireless phone companies receive orders of magnitude more emergency requests. AT&T, for example, reports receiving 56,359 requests affecting 62,829 users. Verizon reports getting approximately 50,000 requests from law enforcement each year.

[snip]

Remember, in an emergency, there is no court oversight or legal process in advance of the disclosure. For over 15 years, Congress correctly has relied on providers to make a good faith determination that there is an emergency that requires disclosure before legal process can be obtained. Providers have procedures and trained personnel to winnow out the non-emergency cases and to deal with some law enforcement agencies for whom the term “emergency” is an elastic concept and its definition expansive.

Part of the problem, and the temptation, is that there is no nunc pro tunc court order or oversight for emergency requests or disclosures. Law enforcement does not have to show a court after the fact that the disclosure was warranted at the time; indeed, no one may ever know about the request or disclosure at all if it doesn’t result in a criminal proceeding where the evidence is introduced at trial. In wiretaps and pen register emergencies, the law requires providers to cut off continued disclosure if law enforcement hasn’t applied for an order within 48 hours.  But if disclosure were mandatory for stored content, all of a user’s content would be out the door and no court would ever be the wiser. At least today, under the voluntary disclosure rules, providers stand in the way of excessive or non-emergency disclosures.

[snip]

A very common experience among providers when the factual basis of an emergency request is questioned is that the requesting agency simply withdraws the request, never to be heard from again. This suggests that to some, emergency requests are viewed as shortcuts or pretexts for expediting an investigation. In other cases when questioned, agents withdraw the emergency request and return with proper legal process in hand shortly thereafter, which suggests it was no emergency at all but rather an inconvenience to procure process. In still other cases, some agents refuse to reveal the circumstances giving rise to the putative emergency. This is why some providers require written certification of an emergency and a short statement of the facts so as to create a record of events — putting it in writing goes a long way to ensuring an emergency exists that requires disclosure. But when all is in place, providers respond promptly, often within an hour because most have a professional, well-trained team available 7×24.

In other words, what seems to happen now, is law enforcement use emergency requests to go on fishing expeditions, some of which are thwarted by provider gatekeeping. Jeff Sessions — the guy who 7 years ago helped the Obama Administration preserve the dragnets — now wants to make it so these fishing expeditions will have no oversight at all, a move that would make ECPA reform meaningless.

The effort to lard up ECPA reform with things that make surveillance worse (not to mention the government’s disinterest in reforming ECPA since 2007, when it first started identifying language it wanted to reform) has my spidey sense tingling. The FBI has claimed, repeatedly, in sworn testimony, that since the 2010 Warshak decision in the Sixth Circuit, it has adopted that ruling everywhere (meaning that it has obtained a warrant for stored email). If that’s true, it should have no objection to ECPA reform. And yet … it does.

I’m guessing these emergency requests are why. I suspect, too, that there are some providers that we haven’t even thought of that are even more permissive when turning over “emergency” content than the telecoms.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

District Attorneys Use Spying as Cover To Demand a Law Enforcement Back Door

In response to a question Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr posed during his committee’s Global Threat hearing yesterday, Jim Comey admitted that “going dark” is “overwhelmingly … a problem that local law enforcement sees” as they try to prosecute even things as mundane as a car accident.

Burr: Can you, for the American people, set a percentage of how much of that is terrorism and how much of that fear is law enforcement and prosecutions that take place in every town in America every day?

Comey: Yeah I’d say this problem we call going dark, which as Director Clapper mentioned, is the growing use of encryption, both to lock devices when they sit there and to cover communications as they move over fiber optic cables is actually overwhelmingly affecting law enforcement. Because it affects cops and prosecutors and sheriffs and detectives trying to make murder cases, car accident cases, kidnapping cases, drug cases. It has an impact on our national security work, but overwhelmingly this is a problem that local law enforcement sees.

Much later in the hearing Burr — whose committee oversees the intelligence but not the law enforcement function of FBI, which functions are overseen by the Senate Judiciary Committee — returned to the issue of encryption. Indeed, he seemed to back Comey’s point — that local law enforcement is facing a bigger problem with encryption than intelligence agencies — by describing District Attorneys from big cities and small towns complaining to him about encryption.

I’ve had more District Attorneys come to me that I have the individuals at this table. The District Attorneys have come to me because they’re beginning to get to a situation where they can’t prosecute cases. This is town by town, city by city, county by county, and state by state. And it ranges from Cy Vance in New York to a rural town of 2,000 in North Carolina.

Of course, the needs and concerns of these District Attorneys are the Senate Judiciary Committee’s job to oversee, not Burr’s. But he managed to make it his issue by calling those local law enforcement officials “those who complete the complement of our intelligence community” in promising to take up the issue (though he did make clear he was not speaking for the committee in his determination on the issue).

One of the responsibilities of this committee is to make sure that those of you at at the table and those that comp — complete the complement of our intelligence community have the tools through how we authorize that you need. [sic]

Burr raised ISIS wannabes and earlier in the hearing Comey revealed the FBI still hadn’t been able to crack one of a number of phones owned by the perpetrators of the San Bernardino attack. And it is important for the FBI to understand whether the San Bernardino attack was directed by people in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan that Tashfeen Malik associated with before coming to this country planning to engage in Jihad.

But only an hour before Jim Comey got done explaining that the real urgency here is to investigate drug cases and car accident cases, not that terrorist attack.

The balance between security, intelligence collection, and law enforcement is going to look different if you’re weighing drug investigations against the personal privacy of millions than if you’re discussing terrorist communications, largely behind closed doors.

Yet Richard Burr is not above pretending this about terrorism when it’s really about local law enforcement.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

CISA Overwhelmingly Passes, 74-21

Update: Thought I’d put a list of Senators people should thank for voting against CISA.

GOP: Crapo, Daines, Heller, Lee, Risch, and Sullivan. (Paul voted against cloture but did not vote today.)

Dems: Baldwin, Booker, Brown, Cardin, Coons, Franken, Leahy, Markey, Menendez, Merkley, Sanders, Tester, Udall, Warren, Wyden


Just now, the Senate voted to pass the Cyber Information Sharing Act by a vote of 74 to 21. While 7 more people voted against the bill than had voted against cloture last week (Update: the new votes were Cardin and Tester, Crapo, Daines, Heller, Lee, Risch, and Sullivan, with Paul not voting), this is still a resounding vote for a bill that will authorize domestic spying with no court review in this country.

The amendment voting process was interesting of its own accord. Most appallingly, just after Patrick Leahy cast his 15,000th vote on another amendment — which led to a break to talk about what a wonderful person he is, as well as a speech from him about how the Senate is the conscience of the country — Leahy’s colleagues voted 57 to 39 against his amendment that would have stopped the creation of a new FOIA exemption for CISA. So right after honoring Leahy, his colleagues kicked one of his key issues, FOIA, in the ass.

More telling, though, were the votes on the Wyden and Heller amendments, the first two that came up today.

Wyden’s amendment would have required more stringent scrubbing of personal data before sharing it with the federal government. The amendment failed by a vote of 55-41 — still a big margin, but enough to sustain a filibuster. Particularly given that Harry Reid switched votes at the last minute, I believe that vote was designed to show enough support for a better bill to strengthen the hand of those pushing for that in conference (the House bills are better on this point). The amendment had the support of a number of Republicans — Crapo, Daines, Gardner, Heller, Lee, Murkowksi, and Sullivan — some of whom would vote against passage. Most of the Democrats who voted against Wyden’s amendment — Carper, Feinstein, Heitkamp, Kaine, King, Manchin, McCaskill, Mikulski, Nelson, Warner, Whitehouse — consistently voted against any amendment that would improve the bill (and Whitehouse even voted for Tom Cotton’s bad amendment).

The vote on Heller’s amendment looked almost nothing like Wyden’s. Sure, the amendment would have changed just two words in the bill, requiring the government to have a higher standard for information it shared internally. But it got a very different crowd supporting it, with a range of authoritarian Republicans like Barrasso, Cassidy, Enzi, Ernst, and Hoeven — voting in favor. That made the vote on the bill much closer. So Reid, along with at least 7 other Democrats who voted for Wyden’s amendment, including Brown, Klobuchar, Murphy, Schatz, Schumer, Shaheen, and Stabenow, voted against Heller’s weaker amendment. While some of these Democrats — Klobuchar, Schumer, and probably Shaheen and Stabenow — are affirmatively pro-unconstitutional spying anyway, the swing, especially from Sherrod Brown, who voted against the bill as a whole, makes it clear that these are opportunistic votes to achieve an outcome. Heller’s vote fell just short 49-47, and would have passed had some of those Dems voted in favor (the GOP Presidential candidates were not present, but that probably would have been at best a wash and possibly a one vote net against, since Cruz voted for cloture last week). Ultimately, I think Reid and these other Dems are moving to try to deliver something closer to what the White House wants, which is still unconstitutional domestic spying.

Richard Burr seemed certain that this will go to conference, which means people like he, DiFi, and Tom Carper will try to make this worse as people from the House point out that there are far more people who oppose this kind of unfettered spying in the House. We shall see.

For now, however, the Senate has embraced a truly awful bill.

Update, all amendment roll calls

Wyden: 41-55-4

Heller: 47-49-4

Leahy: 37-59-4

Franken: 35-60-5

Coons: 41-54-5

Cotton amendment: 22-73-5

Final passage: 74-21-5

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

What Is the Point of the SEC ECPA-Reform Power Grab?

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Electronic Communication Privacy Act reform, the main goal of which is to provide protection for content served on a third party’s server. Because reform is looking more inevitable in Congress (the House version of the bill has more sponsors than any other), government agencies used the hearing as an opportunity to present their wish list for the bill. That includes asking for an expansion of the status quo for civil agencies, with witnesses from SEC, DOJ, and FTC testifying (DOJ also made some other requests that I hope to return to).

Effectively, the civil agencies want to create some kind of court order that will provide them access to stored content. A number of the agencies’ witnesses — especially SEC’s Andrew Ceresney — claimed that a warrant is the same as an order, which culminated in Sheldon Whitehouse arguing (after 45:30) that an order requiring court review is actually less intrusive than a warrant because the latter is conducted ex parte.

It took until CDT policy counsel (and former ACLU lawyer) Chris Calabrese to explain why that’s not true (after 2:08):

We have conflated two really different and very different things in this committee today. One is a court, some kind of court based on a subpoena and one is a probable cause warrant. These are not the same thing. A subpoena gives you access to all information that is relevant. As pursuant, relevant to a civil investigation, a civil infraction. So if you make a mistake on your taxes, that’s a potential civil infraction. Nothing that has been put forward by the SEC would do anything but be a dramatic expansion of their authority to get at ordinary people’s in-boxes. Not just the subjects of investigation, but ordinary folks who may be witnesses. Those people would have the–everything in their in-boxes that was relevant to an investigation, so a dramatic amount of information, as opposed to probable cause of evidence of a crime. That’s a really troubling privacy invasion.

I’m utterly sympathetic with Calabrese’s (and the EFF’s) argument that the bid for some kind of civil investigative order is a power grab designed to bypass probable cause.

But I wonder whether there isn’t another kind of power grab going on as well — a bid to force banks to be investigated in a certain kind of fashion.

It was really hard, to begin with, to have former and (presumably) future Debevoise & Plimpton white collar defense attorney Andrew Ceresney to talk about how seriously SEC takes it job of  “the swift and vigorous pursuit of those who have broken the securities laws through the use of all lawful tools available to us,” as he said in his testimony and during the hearing. There’s just been no evidence of it.

Moreover, as Ceresney admitted, SEC hasn’t tried to obtain email records via an order since the US v. Warshak decision required a warrant in the 6th Circuit, even though SEC believes its approach — getting an order but also providing notice to the target — isn’t governed by Warshak. As SEC Chair Mary Jo White (another revolving door Debevoise & Plimpton white collar defense attorney) said earlier this year,

“We’ve not, to date, to my know­ledge, pro­ceeded to sub­poena the ISPs,” White said. “But that is something that we think is a crit­ic­al au­thor­ity to be able to main­tain, done in the right way and with suf­fi­cient so­li­cit­ous­ness.”

For five years, the SEC hasn’t even tried to use this authority, all while insisting they needed it — even while promising they would remain “solicitous,” if there were any worries about that.

Claims that the SEC needed such authority might be more convincing if SEC was actually pursuing crooks, but there’s little evidence of that.

Which is why I’m interested in this passage, from a letter White sent to Pat Leahy in April 2013 and appended to Ceresney’s testimony, explaining why SEC can’t have DOJ obtain orders for this material.

DOJ only has authority to seek search warrants to advance its own investigations, not SEC investigations. Thus, the Commission cannot request that the DOJ apply for a search warrant on the SEC’s behalf. Second, many SEC investigations of potential civil securities law violations do not involve a parallel criminal investigation, and thus there is no practical potential avenue for obtaining a search warrant in those cases. The large category of cases handled by the SEC without criminal involvement, however, have real investor impact, and are vital to our ability to protect- and, where feasible, make whole – harmed investors.

The only times when SEC would need their fancy new order is if the subject of an investigation refuses to turn information voluntarily, and the threat that they could obtain an order anyway is, according to Ceresney, they key reason SEC wants to maintain this authority (though he didn’t argue the apparent absence of authority has been responsible for SEC’s indolence over the last 5 years). But that act, refusing to cooperate, would get companies more closely into criminal action and — especially under DOJ’s purportedly new policy of demanding that companies offer up their criminal employees — into real risk of forgoing any leniency for cooperation. But White is saying (or was, in 2013, when it was clear Eric Holder’s DOJ wasn’t going to prosecute) that SEC can’t ask DOJ to subpoena something because that would entail a potentially criminal investigation.

Well yeah, that’s the point.

Then add in the presumption here. One problem with prosecuting corporations is they hide their crimes behind attorney-client and trade secret privileges. I presume that’s partly what Sally Yates meant in her new “policy” memo, noting that investigations require a “painstaking review of corporate documents … which may be difficult to collect because of legal restrictions.” SEC’s policy would be designed for maximal privilege claims, because it would involve the subject in the process.

 

If the legislation were so structured, an individual would have the ability to raise with a court any privilege, relevancy, or other concerns before the communications are provided by an ISP, while civil law enforcement would still maintain a limited avenue to access existing electronic communications in appropriate circumstances from ISPs.

 

Other criminals don’t get this treatment. Perhaps the problems posed by financial crime — as well as the necessity for broader relevancy based evidence requests — are unique, though I’m not sure I buy that.

But that does seem to be a presumption behind this SEC power grab: retention of the special treatment financial criminals get that has thus far resulted in their impunity.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

DOJ Doesn’t Care What the Text of the Law or the 2nd Circuit Says, Dragnet Edition

Since USA F-ReDux passed JustSecurity has published two posts about how the lapse of Section 215 might create problems for the dragnet. Megan Graham argued that technically USA F-ReDux would have amended Section 215 as it existed in 2001, meaning the government couldn’t obtain any records but those that were specifically authorized before the PATRIOT Act passed. And former SSCI staffer Michael Davidson argued that a technical fix would address any uncertainty on this point.

DOJ, however, doesn’t much give a shit about what USA F-ReDux actually amends. In its memorandum of law accompanying a request to restart the dragnet submitted the night USA F-ReDux passed, DOJ asserted that of course Section 215 as it existed on May 31 remains in place.

Its brief lapse notwithstanding, the USA FREEDOM Act also expressly extends the sunset of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, as amended, until December 15, 2019, id.§ 705(a), and provides that, until the effective date of the amendments made by Sections 101through103, it does not alter or eliminate the Government’s authority to obtain an order under Section 1861 as in effect prior to the effective date of Sections 101through103 of the USA FREEDOM Act. Id.§ 109(b). Because the USA FREEDOM Act extends the sunset for Section 215 and delays the ban on bulk production under Section 1861until180 days from its enactment, the Government respectfully submits that it may seek and this Court may issue an order for the bulk production of tangible things under Section 1861 as amended by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act as it did in docket number BR 15-24 and prior related dockets.

It cites comments Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley made on May 22 (without, curiously, quoting either Rand Paul or legislative record from after Mitch McConnell caused the dragnet to lapse) showing that the intent of the bill was to extend the current dragnet.

While I think most members of Congress would prefer DOJ’s argument to hold sway, I would expect a more robust argument from DOJ on this point.

Likewise their dismissal of the Second Circuit decision in ACLU v. Clapper (which they say they’re still considering appealing). While it notes the Second Circuit did not immediately issue an injunction, DOJ’s base argument is weaker: it likes FISC’s ruling better and so it thinks FISC’s District Court judges should consider but ultimately ignore what the Second Circuit said.

The Government believes that this Court’s analysis of Section 215 reflects the better interpretation of the statute, see, e.g., In Re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things, docket no. BR 13-109, Amended Mem. Op., 2013 WL 5741573 (FISA Ct. Aug. 29, 2013) (Eagan, J.) and In Re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things, docket no. BR 13-158, Mem. (FISA Ct. Oct. 11, 2013) (McLaughlin, J.), disagrees with the Second Circuit panel’s opinion, and submits that the request for renewal of the bulk production authority is authorized under the statute as noted above.

[snip]

The Government submits that this Court’s analysis continues to reflect the better reading of Section 1861.

This is where, incidentally, the flaccid report language attached to USA F-ReDux is so problematic. In a filing affirming the importance of legislative language, had the HJC report said something more than “Congress’ decision to leave in place the ‘‘relevance’’ standard for Section 501 orders should not be construed as Congress’ intent to ratify the FISA Court’s interpretation of that term,” DOJ might have to take notice of the language. But as it is, without affirmatively rejecting FISC’s opinion, the government will pretend it doesn’t matter.

I’m no more surprised with DOJ’s argument about the Second Circuit decision than I am its insistence that lapsing a bill doesn’t have legal ramifications.

But I would expect both arguments to make some effort to appear a bit less insolent. I guess DOJ is beyond that now.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

In October 2013, Patrick Leahy and Jim Sensenbrenner Rolled Out a Bill That Would Have Ended Upstream Cyber Collection

Back in October 2013, Jim Sensenbrenner and Patrick Leahy released the original, far better, version of the USA Freedom Act. As I noted in November 2013, it included a provision that would limit upstream collection to international terrorism and international proliferation of WMD uses.

It basically adds a paragraph to section d of Section 702 that limits upstream collection to two uses: international terrorism or WMD proliferation.

(C) limit the acquisition of the contents of any communication to those communications—

(i) to which any party is a target of  the acquisition; or

(ii) that contain an account identifier of a target of an acquisition, only if such communications are acquired to protect against international terrorism or the international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.;

And adds a definition for “account identifier” limiting it to identifiers of people.

(1) ACCOUNT IDENTIFIER.—The term ‘account identifier’ means a telephone or instrument number, other subscriber number, email address, or  username used to uniquely identify an account.

At the time, I noted that this would give the NSA 6 months to shut down the use of upstream collection to collect cyber signatures.

Jonathan Mayer’s comments on the NYT/PP story today reveals why that would be important to do (this is a point I’ve been making for years): because if you’re collecting signatures of cyber attacks, you’re collecting victim data, as well, a problem that would only get worse under the cyberinformation sharing bills before Congress.

This understanding of the NSA’s domestic cybersecurity authority leads to, in my view, a more persuasive set of privacy objections. Information sharing legislation would create a concerning surveillance dividend for the agency.

nsa_cyber_2

Because this flow of information is indirect, it prevents businesses from acting as privacy gatekeepers. Even if firms carefully screen personal information out of their threat reports, the NSA can nevertheless intercept that information on the Internet backbone.

Furthermore, this flow of information greatly magnifies the scale of privacy impact associated with information sharing. Here’s an entirely realistic scenario: imagine that a business detects a handful of bots on its network. The business reports a signature to DHS, who hands it off to the NSA. The NSA, in turn, scans backbone traffic using that signature; it collects exfiltrated data from tens of thousands of bots. The agency can then use and share that data.12 What began as a tiny report is magnified to Internet scale.

But, instead of giving NSA 6 months to close this loophole, we instead passed USA F-ReDux, which does nothing to rein domestic spying in the name of cybersecurity.

Leahy released a remarkable statement in response to today’s story that doesn’t reveal whether he knew of this practice (someone knew to forbid it in their original bill!), but insisting he’ll fight for more limits on surveillance and transparency.

Today’s report that the NSA has expanded its warrantless surveillance of Internet traffic underscores the critical importance of placing reasonable and commonsense limits on government surveillance in order to protect the privacy of Americans.  Congress took an important step in this direction this week by passing the USA FREEDOM Act, but I have always believed and said that more reforms are needed.  Congress should have an open, transparent and honest debate about how to protect both our national security and our privacy.  As Congress continues to work on surveillance and cybersecurity legislation, I will continue to fight for more reforms, more transparency, and more accountability – particularly on issues related to the privacy of Americans’ personal communications.

Remember: on Tuesday, Richard Burr vehemently denied we had secret law. And while this application of FISA wasn’t entirely secret — I figured it out pretty quickly, but a great great many people doubted me, as per usual — even Leahy is faced with a situation where he can’t admit he knew about a practice he already tried to shut down once.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

On Carrots, Sticks, and Rand Paul

Now that USA F-ReDux has become USA FreeDone, I wanted to look at Steve Vladeck’s two bizarre posts attacking Rand Paul’s opposition to USA F-ReDux as a way of doing a post-mortem on the process.

I say bizarre because Vladeck complains that Paul “seize[d] the national spotlight in order to focus everyone’s attention on a hyper-specific question” — that of the Section 215 dragnet — when Vladeck has, at this late date, joined those of us who have long been pushing a focus on broader issues, specifically EO 12333 and Section 702. To support his claim that Paul is singularly focused on Section 215, Vladeck links to a second-hand report of a sentence in Paul’s campaign announcement, rather than to the announcement itself which (while more muddled than in other statements where Paul has named EO 12333 directly) invokes surveillance authorized by Executive Order, not the PATRIOT Act.

The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president on day one, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.

Contrary to Vladeck’s miscitation, in this and other comments, Paul seized the national spotlight, in significant part, to talk about the broader issues, specifically EO 12333 and Section 702, that those pushing USA F-ReDux had set aside for future fights. Indeed, big parts of Paul’s filibuster speech — including his 10 and Ron Wyden’s 2 references to EO 12333 and his 18 and Wyden’s 3 references to 702 — sounds a lot like Vladeck’s series of posts worrying that this will be the only shot at reform and therefore regretting that we didn’t talk about the bigger issues as part of it.

Another deficiency of the USA FREEDOM Act is that it does not address bulk collection under Executive Order 12333. The bill also fails to address bulk collection under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

One could say: What are you complaining about? You are getting some improvement. You still have problems, but you are getting some improvement.

I guess my point is that we are having this debate, and we don’t have it very often. We are having the debate every 3 years, and some people have tried to make this permanent, where we would never have any debate. Even though we are only having it every3 years, it is still uncertain whether I will be granted any amendments to this bill.

So, yes, I would like to address everything while we can. I think we ought to address section 702. I think we ought to–for goodness’ sake, why won’t we have some hearings on Executive Order 12333? I think they may be having them in secret, but I go back to what Senator Wyden said earlier. I think the principles of the law could be discussed in public. We don’t have to reveal how we do stuff. Do we think anybody in the world thinks we are not looking at their stuff? Why don’t we
explore the legality and the law of how we are doing it as opposed to leaving it unsaid and unknown in secret?

In other words, unlike the drone filibuster Vladeck points to as proof of “libertarian hijacking” — where Paul definitely defined his terms narrowly (but in a later iteration did succeed in getting more response from Jim Comey than Ron Wyden making demands) — Paul was arguing for precisely what Vladeck said we should be arguing about. He just has cooties, I guess is the substance of Vladeck’s argument, so Vladeck doesn’t want him as an ally.

Equally bizarre is Vladeck’s claim that, “it was the very same Senator Paul who all-but-singlehandedly torpedoed the Leahy bill back in November, helping to force the entirely unnecessary political and legal brinkmanship of the past week.” That’s bizarre because, as a matter of fact, Paul did not “singlehandedly” torpedo the bill; Bill Nelson played an equal role (and that’s even assuming the bill had enough votes to pass, which given that I know of 1 pro-cloture vote who was a no vote on passage and a significant number who weren’t committed to vote for it without improving amendment, was never a foregone conclusion). It’s easy to blame Paul because it absolves whoever it was that whipped a bill but didn’t even count all the Democratic votes on it, but Paul was in no way singlehandedly responsible.

But the view all the more bizarre, coming from Vladeck, because if Paul singlehandedly torpedoed the bill (he didn’t) he also singlehandedly made the 2nd Circuit ruling for ACLU possible (he didn’t, but that is Vladeck’s logic). And unlike most USA F-ReDux champions, Vladeck has been very attentive– if, at times, arguably mistaken in his understanding of it — to the interaction of USA F-ReDux legislation and the courts. While USA F-ReDux is — important additional Congressional reporting requirements on PRTT and bulky 215 collection notwithstanding — definitely a worse bill than its predecessor, that’s not the measure. So long as the 2nd Circuit decision ruling against “relevant to” and finding a Fourth Amendment interest at the moment of collection rather than review stands (the government still has a few weeks to challenge it), the measure is USA F-ReDux plusthe 2nd Circuit decision as compared to USAF without the additional leverage of an appellate court ruling. There are very important things the 2nd Circuit decision may add to USA F-ReDux. Every commenter is entitled to weigh that measure themselves, but if you’re going to hold Paul responsible for torpedoing the legislation last fall you also have to credit him with buying time so the 2nd Circuit could weigh in.

Which brings me to leverage.

I was not a fan of any version of USAF because all left every key provision save the CDR function (and even some of that was left dangerously open to interpretation until HJC wrote its final bill report) subject to the whim of the Executive and/or the FISC, and the bill itself jettisoned necessary leverage over the Executive (Vladeck has written about the gutting of the FISC advocate, and a parallel gutting has happened on transparency provisions from the start). That is, rather than exercise some kind of authority over the Executive, Congress basically wrote down what the Executive wanted and passed it in a way that the Executive still had a lot of leeway to decide what it wanted to do.

I get why that happened and I don’t mean to diminish the work of those who pushed for more: the votes and leadership buy-in simply isn’t there yet to actually start limiting what Article II will do in secret.

But that means none of the other things Vladeck wants will be possible until we get more leverage. And while the outcome of the bill may be the same and/or worse, what is different about the passage of USA F-ReDux is that leadership in both house of Congress barely kept it together.

And Rand Paul, whether he has cooties or not, was key to that process.

That’s true, in large part, because Mitch McConnell was aiming to set up an urgent crisis as a way to scare people into making the bill worse. He succeeded in doing so by delaying consideration of the bill until the last minute, but when Paul — and Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich — prevented him from getting a short-term extension to do so without lapsing the dragnet, that changed the calculus of the crisis. It meant those who had bought into the idea you need a dragnet to keep the country safe could be pressured to vote against McConnell’s efforts to weaken USA F-ReDux. (Note, there are some who have claimed that Paul objected to immediately considering USA F-ReDux Sunday night, giving McConnell his opportunity to amend the bill, but the congressional record doesn’t support that; McConnell didn’t call for immediate consideration of the bill itself until he had already filled the tree with amendments.)

And while I don’t want to minimize the utterly crucial efforts of Mike Lee to actually whip the vote, that effort was made easier by the very real threat that if the bill had to go back to the House it would die, resulting in a more permanent lapse to Section 215 and the other expired authorities. Leahy and others used that threat repeatedly, in fact, to argue that surveillance hawks needed to support an amended bill. And the threat was heightened because John Boehner had real worries that if he tried something funny, his own leadership would be at risk.

Last year, the privacy community was mostly fighting with carrots against an Executive branch that was dictating what it was willing to give up. Now, it’s fighting with carrots and sticks. We haven’t gotten the Executive branch to give up anything it didn’t already want to give up yet. But having dealt McConnell a big defeat and having the threat to do so with Boehner might make that possible going forward.

Having someone like Rand Paul, who is not afraid to be accused of having cooties, to make that possible is a critical part of that process. That doesn’t negate the efforts of anyone else (again, I’m really encouraged by Mike Lee’s role in all this). But it does mean people holding carrots but demanding things that will only be obtained with some sticks, too, ought not to dismiss the efforts to make the threat of a stick real.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Loss of PRTT Minimization Review in USA F-ReDux

As I noted earlier, the House Judiciary Committee just released a new version of USA Freedom Act, which I’ve dubbed USA F-ReDux. I’ll have a lot more to say about it, but I want to make two minor point about things that got taken out of Leahy’s bill from last year.

Section 215 Minimization

215 tracker

First, last year’s bill had minimization procedures tied to bulky Section 215 collection effectively requiring the government to destroy the data that had not been determined to be two hops from a target within a period of time.

(C) for orders in which the specific selection term does not specifically identify an individual, account, or personal device, procedures that prohibit the dissemination, and require the destruction within a reasonable time period (which time period shall be specified in the order), of any tangible thing or information therein that has not been determined to relate to a person who is—

(i) a subject of an authorized investigation;

(ii) a foreign power or a suspected agent of a foreign power;

(iii) reasonably likely to have information about the activities of—

(I) a subject of an authorized 21 investigation; or

(II) a suspected agent of a foreign power who is associated with a subject of an authorized investigation;

(iv) in contact with or known to—

(I) a subject of an authorized investigation; or

(II) a suspected agent of a foreign power who is associated with a subject of an authorized investigation,

Those minimization procedures resemble what we’ve seen from the minimization procedures FISC imposed on the phone dragnet, which probably means they also resemble what FISC was imposing in other cases. In the previous year (2013), FISC had imposed minimization procedures on almost 80% of all orders.

In other words, the clause basically required the government to do what the FISC was probably already forcing it to do in the majority of orders (which, in any case, permitted the government to keep, indefinitely, the records associated with people two hops out of someone whom the government had a traffic stop suspicion had ties to terror or spying).

Last year, however, the FISC modified fewer than 3% of orders, and at least one of those was probably a phone dragnet one. Perhaps the change means the government finally started complying with the requirement laid out in 2006 that it adopt minimization procedures (the impending Section 215 IG Report likely created an incentive to do that, as following the law on minimization was one of the recommendations Glenn Fine had made in 2008, so Michael Horowitz surely followed up on that recommendation; plus, the generally law-abiding James Baker assumed FBI’s General Counsel role in this period). Perhaps it means the government stopped making bulky collections (though that is unlikely). But for some reason, the number of orders on which the FISC imposed minimization procedures and a report back fell off a cliff.

And now the requirement that the government adopt minimization procedures for bulky collection is gone from the bill.

I might be alarmed by that, but this year’s bill does add a Rule of Construction clarifying that the FISA Court can impose additional minimization procedures on top of what the bill requires the government to adopt for Section 215. So it may be that if the FBI returns to its recidivist ways on minimization procedures, we’ll see the number of modified orders spike again.

PRTT “Privacy Procedures”

I’m more concerned about what happened on the Pen Register side.

Last year, the PRTT section added new “privacy” (not “minimization”) procedures.

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

Compare how squishy those privacy procedures are to the required Section 215 minimization procedures FBI blew off for years.

A) specific procedures that are reasonably designed in light of the purpose and technique of an order for the production of tangible things, to minimize the retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information;

(B) procedures that require that nonpublicly available information, which is not foreign intelligence information, as defined in section 1801 (e)(1) of this title, shall not be disseminated in a manner that identifies any United States person, without such person’s consent, unless such person’s identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance; and

Rather than requiring the procedures minimize the retention and dissemination, the bill required only that privacy protections be applied. And there was no requirement limiting dissemination of non-foreign intelligence data.

But at least there were privacy procedures, right? Baby steps?

Last year’s bill had, and this year’s bill retains, a Rule of Construction (like that added to Section 215) that notes nothing limits FISC’s power to impose additional minimization procedures.

(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this subsection limits the authority of the court established under section 103(a) or of the Attorney General to impose additional privacy or minimization procedures with regard to the installation or use of a pen register or trap and trace device.

Which is all well and good, but FISC’s authority to do so with PRTT has no statutory basis, unlike Section 215. And during both the 2004 initial application for the Internet dragnet and John Bates’ 2010 reauthorization of it, the government made some fairly aggressive claims about FISC’s impotence to do anything but rubber stamp applications. So this Rule of Construction may not have the same weight as that in Section 215.

Which is why I worry that this section was removed from the bill.

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

As the documents on the phone dragnet violations showed, unless FISC has and exercises the authority to ensure compliance with minimization procedures, the government will cheat (or, more charitably, not find systematic years-long violations staring them in the face). FISC seemed to recognize this when it imposed compliance reports on its minimization of Section 215 orders in recent years. But it won’t have statutory authority to review assessment with these already-squishy “privacy procedures.”

Read more

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

If Section 215 Lapsed, Would the Government Finally Accede to ECPA Reform?

Now that the Section 215 Sunset draws nearer, the debate over what reformers should do has shifted away from whether USA Freedom Act is adequate reform to whether it is wise to push for Section 215 to sunset.

That debate, repeatedly, has focused almost entirely on the phone dragnet that Section 215 authorizes. It seems most of the people engaging in this debate or reporting on it are unaware or uninterested in what the other roughly 175 Section 215 orders authorized last year did (just 5 orders authorized the phone dragnet).

But if Section 215 sunsets in June, those other 175 orders will be affected too (though thus far it looks like FISC is approving fewer 215 orders than they did last year). Yet the government won’t tell us what those 175 orders do.

We know — or suspect — some of what these other orders do. NYT and WSJ reported on a Western Union dragnet that would probably amount to 4-5 orders a year (and would have been unaffected and hidden in transparency reporting under USA Freedom Act).

The FBI has previously confirmed that it used Section 215 to collect records of explosives precursors — things like large quantities of acetone, hydrogen peroxide, fertilizer, and (probably now) pressure cookers; given that the Presidential Review Group consulted with ATF on its review of Section 215, it’s likely these are programmatic collection. (If the government told us it was, we might then be able to ask why these materials couldn’t be handled the same way Sudafed is handled, too, which might force the government to tie it more closely to actual threats.) This too would have been unaffected by USAF.

The government also probably uses Section 215 to collect hotel records (which is what it was originally designed for, though not in the bulk it is probably accomplished). This use of Section 215 will likely be reinforced if and when SCOTUS affirms the collection of hotel records in Los Angeles v. Patel.

But the majority of those 175 Section 215 orders, we now know, are for some kind of Internet records that may or may not relate to cyber investigations, depending on whether you think FBI talks out of its arse when trying to keep authorities, but which they almost certainly collect in sufficient bulk that FISC imposed minimization procedures on FBI.

Which brings me to my argument that reauthorizing Section 215 will forestall any ECPA reform.

We know most Section 215 orders are for Internet records because someone reliable — DOJ’s Inspector General in last year’s report on National Security Letters — told us that a collection of Internet companies successfully challenged FBI’s use of NSLs to collect this stuff after DOJ published an opinion on ECPA in 2008.

The decision of these [redacted] Internet companies to discontinue producing electronic communication transactional records in response to NSLs followed public release of a legal opinion issued by the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding the application of ECPA Section 2709 to various types of information. The FBI General Counsel sought guidance from the OLC on, among other things, whether the four types of information listed in subsection (b) of Section 2709 — the subscriber’s name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records — are exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request in an NSL. In a November 2008 opinion, the OLC concluded that the records identified in Section 2709(b) constitute the exclusive list of records that may be obtained through an ECPA NSL.

Although the OLC opinion did not focus on electronic communication transaction records specifically, according to the FBI, [redacted] took a legal position based on the opinion that if the records identified in Section 2709(b) constitute the exclusive list of records that may be obtained through an ECPA NSL, then the FBI does not have the authority to compel the production of electronic communication transactional records because that term does not appear in subsection (b).

That report went on to explain that FBI considered fixing this problem by amending the definition for toll records in Section 2709, but then bagged that plan and just moved all this collection to Section 215, which takes longer.

In the absence of a legislative amendment to Section 2709, [2.5 lines redacted]. [Deputy General Counsel of FBI’s National Security Law Branch] Siegel told us that the process of generating and approving a Section 215 application is similar to the NSL process for the agents and supervisors in the field, but then the applications undergo a review process in NSLB and the Department’s National Security Division, which submits the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court). According to Siegel, a request that at one time could be accomplished with an NSL in a matter of hours if necessary, now takes about 30-40 days to accomplish with a standard Section 215 application.

In addition to increasing the time it takes to obtain transactional records, Section 215 requests, unlike NSL requests, require the involvement of FBI Headquarters, NSD, and the FISA Court. Supervisors in the Operations Section of NSD, which submits Section 215 applications to the FISA Court, told us that the majority of Section 215 applications submitted to the FISA Court [redacted] in 2010 and [redacted] in 2011 — concerned requests for electronic communication transaction records.

The NSD supervisors told us that at first they intended the [3.5 lines redacted] They told us that when a legislative change no longer appeared imminent and [3 lines redacted] and by taking steps to better streamline the application process.

The government is, according to the report, going through all sorts of hoop-jumping on these records rather than working with Congress to pass ECPA reform.

Why?

That’s not all the Report told us. Even earlier than that problem, in 2007, the IG identified other uncertainties about what the FBI should be obtaining with an NSL, and FBI actually put together a proposal to Congress. The proposed definition included both financial information and what could be construed as location data in toll records. That bill has never been passed.

But while Internet companies have shown reluctance to let the FBI secretly expand the meaning of toll record, two telecoms have not (a third, which I suspect is Verizon, backed out of closer cooperation on NSLs in 2009, and presumably a fourth, which probably is T-Mobile, was never a part of it).

And here’s what happened to the kinds of records FBI has been obtaining (almost certainly from AT&T) in the interim:

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 5.15.23 PM

 

FBI is collecting 7 kinds of things from (probably) AT&T that the Inspector General doesn’t think fits under ECPA.

Now, I’m not sure precisely why ECPA reform has gone nowhere in the last 8 years, but all this redaction suggests one reason is the government doesn’t want to be bound by a traditional definition of toll record, so much so it’s willing to put up with the aggravation of getting Section 215 orders for (what may be the same kind of) information from Internet companies in order to not be bound by limits on its telecom (or at least AT&T) NSLs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather have the Internet stuff be under Section 215 orders, where it will be treated with some kind of minimization (the FBI is still completely ignoring the 2006 language in Section 215 requiring it to adopt minimization procedures for that section, but FISC has stepped into the void and imposed some itself).

But ultimately what’s going on — in addition to the adoption of a dragnet approach for phone records (that might have been deemed a violation of 18 USC 2302-3 if litigated with an adversary) and financial records (that might have been deemed a violation of 12 USC 3401-3422 if litigated with an adversary), is that the government is also, apparently, far exceeding the common understanding of NSLs without going back to Congress to get them to amend the law (and this goes well beyond communities of interest — two or maybe three hop collection under an NSL — which isn’t entirely redacted in this report).

It may be moot anyway. I actually wonder whether Internet companies will use the immunity of CISA, if and when it passes, to turn whatever they’re turning over without a Section 215 order.

And it’s not like Pat Leahy and Mike Lee have been successful in their efforts to get ECPA reform that protects electronic communications passed. ECPA isn’t happening anyway.

But maybe it might, if Section 215 were to lapse and the government were forced to stop kluging all the programs that have never really been approved by Congress in the first place into Section 215.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.