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[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Technical Fixes in HJC Bill Suggest SCOTUS May Have Reviewed a (2015 ?) FISA Application

HJC has released a new version of the bill they’re cynically calling USA Liberty. The most significant change in the bill is that it makes the warrant requirement for criminal backdoor queries that will never be used an actual probable cause warrant, with the judge having discretion to reject the warrant.

But that’ll never be used. If a warrant requirement falls in the woods but no one ever uses it does it make a sound?

I’m more interested in a series of changes that were introduced as technical amendments that make seemingly notable changes to the way the FISC and FISCR work.

The changes are:

In 50 USC 1803 and 50 USC 1822 eliminating the requirement that the FISA Court of Review immediately explain its reason for denying an application before sending it to the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice shall publicly designate three judges, one of whom shall be publicly designated as the presiding judge, from the United States district courts or courts of appeals who together shall comprise a court of review which shall have jurisdiction to review the denial of any application made under this chapter. If such court determines that the application was properly denied, the court shall immediately provide for the record a written statement of each reason for its decision and, on petition of the United States for a writ of certiorari, the record shall be transmitted under seal to the Supreme Court, which shall have jurisdiction to review such decision.

Letting the FISA Court of Review, in addition to the FISC, ensure compliance with orders.

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to reduce or contravene the inherent authority of the court established under subsection (a) [a court established under this section] to determine or enforce compliance with an order or a rule of such court or with a procedure approved by such court.

In 50 USC 1805 (traditional FISA), 50 USC 1842(d) and 50 USC 1843(e) (pen registers), and 50 USC 1861(c) (215 orders) stating that a denial of a FISC order under 50 USC 1804 may be reviewed under 50 USC 1803 (that is, by FISCR).

Now, I suppose these (especially the language permitting FISCR reviews) count as technical fixes, ensuring that the review process, which we know has been used on at least three occasions, actually works.

But the only reason anyone would notice these technical fixes — especially how something moves from FISCR to SCOTUS — is if some request had been denied (or modified, given the language permitting the FISCR to ensure compliance with an order) at both the FISA court and the FISA Court of Review, or if FISCR tried (and got challenged) to enforce minimization procedures imposed at that level.

There’s one other reason to think there must have been a significant denial: The report, in the 2015 FISC report, that an amicus curiae had been appointed four times.

During the reporting period, on four occasions individuals were appointed to serve as amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i). The names of the three individuals appointed to serve as amicus curiae are as follows:  Preston Burton, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II  (with Freedom Works), and Amy Jeffress. All four appointments in 2015 were made pursuant to § 1803(i)(2)(B). Five findings were made that an amicus curiae appointment was not appropriate under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A) (however, in three of those five instances, the court appointed an amicus curiae under 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(B) in the same matter).

We know of three of those in 2015: Ken Cuccinelli serving as amicus for FreedomWorks’ challenge to the restarted dragnet in June 2015, Preston Burton serving as amicus for the determination of what to do with existing Section 215 data, and Amy Jeffress for the review of the Section 702 certifications in 2015. (We also know of the consultation with Mark Zwillinger in 2016 and Rosemary Collyer’s refusal to abide by USA Freedom Act’s intent on amici on this year’s reauthorization.) I’m not aware of another, fourth consultation that has been made public, but according to this there was one more. I say Jeffress was almost certainly the amicus used in that case because she was one of the people chosen to be a formal amicus in November 2015, meaning she would have been called on twice. If it was Jeffress, then it likely happened in the last months of the year.

Obviously, we have no idea what this hidden consultation is. The scan of all of Yahoo’s email accounts was in 2015, but it has always been reported as “spring” and weeks before Alex Stamos left Yahoo, so that seems sure to have happened before June 8 and therefore without a post-USA Freedom Act amicus. Moreover, it seems very likely that this fourth amicus consultation involved a denial, because the government is supposed to release any significant decision. So I’m guessing that Jeffress proved persuasive in one case we don’t get to know about.

Update: In this bill I briefly called the bill USS Liberty but thought better of doing so.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

To Hide Why Its State Secrets Invocation Is Bogus, Government Declares Public Information Top Secret

My profuse apologies to Preston Burton.

Back before it was clear why FISA Judge Michael Mosman appointed him to serve as amicus addressing the issue of retention of phone dragnet data, I suggested it might have been an effort to undermine EFF’s lawsuit against the government. After all, EFF plaintiff (in the First Unitarian Church suit challenging the dragnet) CAIR surely has standing to not only sue, but sue because of the way the dragnet chaining process subjected a bunch of CAIR’s associates to further NSA analysis solely because of their First Amendment protected affiliation with CAIR. But if the government gets to destroy all the dragnet data without first admitting that fact, then it will be hard to show how CAIR got injured.

In Burton’s reply to the government’s response to his initial brief on this question, he did the opposite, pressuring the government to find some way to accord the EFF plaintiffs standing. That led — we as we saw last week  — to an order from Mosman for briefing, due on January 8, on whether there’s a way to get rid of the data. That may not end up helping EFF, but it sure has put the government in a bad mood.

Burton spends just a few lines of his reply addressing the foremost question before him: whether the government could keep data past November 28. His points, however, are telling, in that he doesn’t seem convinced the government actually has destroyed the data aged off in the past.

[The government response] fails to provide the Court with a clear answer as to whether and how collections that should have been destroyed actually were destroyed.

That’s interesting given that, after the NSA “destroyed” the Internet dragnet data, NSA’s own Inspector General didn’t seem entirely convinced it had gotten destroyed.

As to the EFF data, Burton responds to the government’s snippy response, which I laid out here, by first calling out the government’s non-response to his own questions. Burton notes that he asked why the government hasn’t come to some stipulation that would permit it to destroy the data, after which the government “reinvent[ed] the questions” to pertain to the identity of providers, its pending state secrets invocation, and the potential one of the suits would become a class action. Claiming his “inquiries were not quite the calamities the government conjures to avoid answering the questions,” Burton then invited the court to consider whether the government is being obstinate.

The Court can consider the government’s litigation tactics and whether it is largely responsible for the duration of the preservation orders in the California cases in deciding whether to permit it in this Docket, not the other cases, to continue to retain millions of records. The government’s unwillingness to address its various litigation positions, some of which appear to have contributed to the prolonged hold, speaks volumes.

Then Burton focuses specifically on the government’s invocation of state secrets (which it has done in Jewel but not yet in First Unitarian).

For example, its resort to incanting the state secrets privilege seems rather energetic given the robust public discussion of this program, including the [three lines redacted]. The government also states, without more, that limiting the records it holds to those belonging to plaintiff is “entirely unworkable.” This Court may fairly probe whether that conclusory declaration is sufficient or meaningful. It would perhaps be expensive and time-consuming to segregate the data or otherwise pare the archive but that is a choice the government may be required to make in deciding to continue to burrow in on its standing and procedural challenges.

The entire paragraph was stamped TS//SI/OC/NF, suggesting that the government maintains the redacted information — which contextually must be public!! — is either Top Secret or Originator Controlled.

In other words, when Burton pointed out that the government was claiming state secrets rather more “energetically” than public disclosures merited, they claimed the public reason why that was the case was Top Secret.

I’m half wondering whether the government was even going to release this filing. Remember, when the other three filings on this issue got released, I predicted there was another, missing reply.

In addition to Mosman’s opinion, the FISC released amicus Preston Burton’s memo and the government’s response on December 2; I suspect there may be a Burton reply they have not released.

[snip]

Which leads me to the detail that makes me suspect there’s a second Burton filing the government hasn’t released (I’ve asked NSD but gotten no answer, and in his opinion Mosman says only “Mr. Burton and the government submitted briefs addressing this question,” leaving open the possibility Burton submitted two): After finding no reason to hold a hearing on the issue of restarting the dragnet during the summer, Mosman did hold a hearing here (though it’s not clear whether Burton attended or not). At the hearing, Mosman ordered the government to try to come up with a way to destroy the dragnets, which it will do by January 8.

Six days later (or sometime in the last six days), voila, the missing reply, showing Burton expressing clear doubt about government’s destruction plans not to mention their invocation of state secrets, but with the already released public explanation for why he had that doubt hidden under an equally dubious invocation of secrecy.

It sure seems like the government is working awfully hard to hide the fact that its state secrets aren’t actually all that secret.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

How FISC Amicus Preston Burton Helped Michael Mosman Shore up FISC’s Authority

On November 24, Judge Michael Mosman approved the government’s request to hold onto the Section 215 phone dragnet data for technical assurance purposes for three months, as well as to hold the data to comply with a preservation order in EFF’s challenge to the phone dragnet (though as with one earlier order in this series, Thomas Hogan signed the order for Mosman, who lives in Oregon). While the outcome of the decision is not a surprise, the process bears some attention, as it’s the first time a truly neutral amicus has been involved in the FISC process (though corporations, litigants, and civil rights groups have weighed in various decisions as amici).

In addition to Mosman’s opinion, the FISC released amicus Preston Burton’s memo and the government’s response on December 2; I suspect there may be a Burton reply they have not released.

Minimization procedures

As I noted in September when Mosman first appointed Burton, it wasn’t entirely clear what the FISC was asking him to review. In his order, Mosman explains that he “directed him to address whether the government’s above-described requests to retain and use BR metadata after November 28, 2015, are precluded by section 103 of the USA FREEDOM Act or any other provision of that Act.”

Burton took this to be largely a question about minimization procedures.

Instead, the Act provides that the Court shall decide issues concerning the use, retention, dissemination, and eventual destruction of the tangible things collected under the FISA business records statute as part of its oversight of the statutorily mandated minimization procedures.

He then pointed to a number of the FISC’s more assertive oversight moments over the NSA to argue that the FISC has fairly broad authorities to review minimization procedures.

Although the government is required to enumerate minimization procedures addressing the use, retention, dissemination, and (now) ultimate destruction of the metadata in its applications to the Court, the Court’s review of those procedures is not simply ministerial. And, indeed, Judge Walton’s 2009 orders, cited above, addressing deficiencies in the administration of the call detail record program made clear that the FISA Court may impose more robust minimization procedures. See also Kris, Bulk Collection at 15-17 (discussing FISA Court’s imposition of new restrictions to the telephony program). Likewise, the Court may decline to endorse procedures sought by the government See Opinion at 11-2, In re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things, Docket No. BR 14-01 (March 7, 2014) (denying the government’s motion to modify the minimization procedures), amended, Opinion at S, Jn re Application of the FBI/or an Order Requiring the Production a/Tangible Things, Docket No. BR 14-01(March12, 2014). Similarly, Judge Bates found substantial deficiencies in the NSA’ s minimization procedures in Jn Re [Redacted}, 2011 WL l 0945618, at *9 (FISA Ct. Oct. 3, 2011) (Bates J.) (fmding NSA minimization procedures insufficient and inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment). As a result, the NSA amended its procedures, including reducing the data retention in issue in that case (under a differentFISA statute) from five to two years. See In Re [Redacted], 2011WL10947772, at •s (FISA Ct. Nov. 30, 2011) (Bates J.).

Particularly in the case of the two PRTT orders, the government has actually challenged FISC’s roles in imposing minimization procedures (though admittedly FISC’s role under that authority is less clear cut than under Section 215).

Burton argued that USA Freedom Act (which he abbreviated USFA) made that role even stronger.

But the USFA augmented this minimization review authority even more and dispels any suggestion that the Court may not modify the minimization procedures articulated in the government’s application. The statute’s fortification of Judicial Review provisions makes clear that Congress intended for the FISA Court to oversee these issues in the context of imposing minimization procedures that balance the government’s national security interests with privacy interests, including specifically providing for the prompt destruction of tangible things produced under the business records provisions.10 Significantly, USF A § 104 empowers the Court to assess and supplement the government’s proposed minimization procedures:

Nothing in this subsection shall limit the authority of the court established under section 103(a) to impose additional, particularized minimization procedures with regard to the production, retention, or dissemination of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons, including additional particularized procedures related to the destruction of information within a reasonable time period. USFA § 104 (a)(3) (now codified at 50 U.S.C. §1861(g)(3)(emphasis supplied).

That provision applies to all information the government obtains under the business records procedure, not just call detail records. u Moreover, that amendment, set forth in USFA § 104, went into effect immediately, unlike the 180-day transition period for the revisions to the business records sections. See USFA § 109 (amendments made by §§ 101-103 take effect 180 days after enactment).12

As I said, that’s the kind of argument the government has been arguing against for 11 years, most notably in the two big Internet dragnet reauthorizations (admittedly, FISC’s role in minimization procedures there is less clear, but there is similar language about not limiting the authority of the court).

Burton sneaks in some real privacy questions

Having laid out the (as he sees it) expansive authority to review minimization procedures, Burton then does something delightful.

He poses a lot of questions that should have been asked 9 years ago.

Because of the significant privacy concerns that motivated Congress to amend the bulk collection provisions of the statute, however, the undersigned respectfully submits that, the Court should consider requiring the government to answer more fully fundamental questions regarding:

  • The current conditions, location, and security for the data archive.
  • The persons and entities to whom the NSA has given access to information provided under this program and whether that shared information will also be destroyed under the NSA destruction plan (and, if not, why not?).
  • What oversight is in place to ensure that access to the database is not “analytical” and what the government means by “non-analytical.”
  • Why testing of the adequacy of new procedures was not completed by the NSA (and whether it was even initiated) during the 180-day transition period.
  • How the government intends to destroy such information after February 29, 2016, (its proposed extinction date for the database) independent of the resolution of any litigation holds.
  • Whether the contemplated destruction will include only data that the government has collected or will include all data that it has analyzed in some fashion.

Remember, by the time Burton wrote this, he had read at least the application for the final dragnet order, and the answers to these questions were not clear from that (which is where the government lays out its more detailed minimization procedures). Public releases have made me really concerned about some of them, such as how to protect non-analytical queries from being used for analytical purposes. NSA has had tech people do analytical queries in the past, and it doesn’t audit tech activities. Similarly, when the NSA destroyed the Internet dragnet data in 2011, NSA’s IG wasn’t entirely convinced it all got destroyed, because he couldn’t see the intake side of things. So these are real issues of concern.

Burton also asked questions about the necessity behind keeping data for the EFF challenges rather than just according the plaintiffs standing.

If this Court chooses to follow Judge Walton’s approach and defer to the preservation orders issued by the other courts, the Court nonetheless should address a number of questions before deciding whether to grant the government’s preservation request:

  • Why has the government been unable to reach some stipulation with the plaintiffs to preserve only the evidence necessary for plaintiffs to meet their standing burden? Consider whether it is appropriate for the government to retain billions of irrelevant call detail records involving millions of people based on, what undersigned understands from counsel involved in that litigation, the government’s stubborn procedural challenges to standing — a situation that the government has fostered by declining to identify the particular telecommunications provider in question and/or stipulate that the plaintiff is a customer of a relevant provided.
  • As Judge Walton identified when he first denied the modification of the minimization procedures to extend the duration of preservation, the continued retention of the data at issue subjects it to risk of misuse and improper dissemination. The government should have to satisfy the Court of the security of this information in plain and meaningful terms.

(Notice how he assumes the plaintiffs might have standing which, especially for First Unitarian Church plaintiff CAIR, they should.)

Finally, perhaps channeling the justified complaint of all the tech people who review these kinds of policy questions, Burton suggested the FISC really ought to be consulting with a tech person.

This case, due to the relatively limited period of time sought by the government to accomplish its stated narrow purpose, likely does not require a difficult assessment of the reasonableness of the government’s technical retention request. To evaluate even such a limited request, however, the Court may wish to consider availing itself of technical expertise from national security experts or computer technology experts. Technical expertise is an amicus category contemplated by Congress in its reform of the FISA statutes. 50 U.S.C. § 1803 (i)(2)(B), as amended by USF A Section 401. That section alone suggests congressional expectation of greater judicial oversight of the government’s surveillance program and requests. See USF A § 401; see also Kris, Bulk Collection at 3 7 (contemplating theoretical procedures for cross-examining NSA engineers as one example of the challenges in implementing a more adversarial system for the FISA Court).

Burton ended his memo reiterating his recommendation that FISC get more information.

In light of the significant privacy interests affected by the creation and retention of the database, the undersigned urges the Court as part of its statutory oversight of the minimization procedures to demand full and meaningful information concerning the condition of the data at issue, the data’s security, and its contemplated destruction as a condition of any retention beyond November 28, 2015.

The government is not amused

Predictably, the government balked at Burton’s invitation to use his expansive reading of the authority of the FISC to review minimization procedures to bolster the current ones.

Amicus curiae’ s analysis of Section 104 of the USA FREEDOM Act could be interpreted as suggesting an opportunity for the Court to re-examine the minimization procedures applicable for other business records productions in this proceeding. Consistent with the Court’s order appointing amicus curiae, the Government has limited its response to the issue identified in that order.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the government distinguishes between Burton’s proposal to reexamine existing minimization procedures and what is covered by the order in question, because they do respond to a number of the questions he raised in his brief.

For example, they provide these details about where the dragnet lives (which, as it turns out, is at Fort Meade, not the UT data center).

As described in the Application in docket number BR 15-99 and prior docket numbers, NSA stores and processes the bulk call detail records in repositories within secure networks under NSA’ s control. Those repositories (servers, networked storage devices, and backup tapes in locked containers) are located in NSA’s secure, access-controlled facilities at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. As further described in those applications, NSA restricts access to the records to authorized personnel who have received appropriate and adequate training. Electronic access to the call detail records requires a user authentication credential. Physical access to the location where NSA stores and processes the call detail records requires an approval by NSA management and must be conducted in teams of no less than two persons.

Also note that there is currently a requirement that techs access the raw data in two person teams. That is likely a change that post-dates Snowden.

Curiously, the NSA says they can destroy all the phone dragnet data in a month.

NSA anticipates it can complete destruction of the bulk call detail records and related chain summaries within one month of being relieved of its litigation preservation obligations.

They appear to have taken far less time to destroy the Internet dragnet data, further supporting the appearance they did it very hastily to avoid having to report back to John Bates on the status of their dragnet.

Finally, they make clear what had already been clear to me: the existing query results will remain at NSA.

Information obtained or derived from call detail records which has been previously disseminated in accordance with approved minimization procedures will not be recalled or destroyed.2 Also, select query results generated by pre-November 29, 2015, queries of the bulk records that formed the basis of a dissemination in accordance with approved minimization procedures will not be destroyed.

2 This practice does not differ from similar circumstances where, for example Court-authorized electronic surveillance and/or physical search authorities under Title I or III expire. While raw (unminimized) information is handled and destroyed in accordance with applicable minimization procedures, prior authorized disseminations and the material underpinning those disseminations are not recalled or otherwise destroyed.

This means that everyone within two or three degrees of a target that the NSA has found interesting — potentially over the last decade — will remain available and subject to NSA’s analytical toys from here on out.

Let’s hope CAIR gets standing to challenge what has happened to their IDs then.

Which may be why the government gets snippiest in response to Burton’s question about why they’re going to keep billions of phone records rather than just reach some accommodation with EFF.

The suggestions by amicus curiae that this Court address (or perhaps even resolve) significant substantive questions at issue in underlying civil litigation,, see Amicus Mem. of Law at 27, are exactly the kinds of inquiries the Court previously recognized were inappropriate for it to resolve. Opinion and Order, docket number BR 14-01at5 (“it is appropriate for [the district court for the Northern District of California], rather than the FISC, to determine what BR metadata is relevant to that litigation”). This Court should adopt the same view. In particular, the suggestion that the Government disclose national security information concerning the identity of providers, information subject to a pending state secrets privilege assertion, is inappropriate, and the suggestion by amicus that the government stipulate to Article III standing in those cases is unfounded as a matter of law. Finally, the suggestion that preservation of bulk call detail records can be limited solely to the plaintiffs in multiple pending putative class actions is entirely unworkable. For the reasons more particularly set out above, until the Government is relieved of its preservation obligations, the data is secure.

Which leads me to the detail that makes me suspect there’s a second Burton filing the government hasn’t released (I’ve asked NSD but gotten no answer, and in his opinion Mosman says only “Mr. Burton and the government submitted briefs addressing this question,” leaving open the possibility Burton submitted two): After finding no reason to hold a hearing on the issue of restarting the dragnet during the summer, Mosman did hold a hearing here (though it’s not clear whether Burton attended or not). At the hearing, Mosman ordered the government to try to come up with a way to destroy the dragnets, which it will do by January 8.

During the hearing held on November 20, 2015, the Court directed the government to submit its assessment of whether the cessation of bulk collection on November 28, 2015, will moot the claims of the plaintiffs in the Northern District of California litigation relating to the BR Metadata program and thus provide a basis for moving to lift the preservation orders. The Court further directed the government to address whether, even if the California plaintiffs’ claims are not moot, there might be a basis for seeking to lift the preservation orders with respect to the BR Metadata that is not associated with the plaintiffs. The government intends to make its submission on these issues by January 8, 2016.

And, as Mosman’s opinion makes clear, he ordered them to write up a free-standing copy of the minimization procedures that will govern the dragnet data retained from here on out.

The minimization procedures that the government proposes using after the production ceases on November 28, 2015 are in important respects substantially more restrictive than those currently in effect. The procedures that will apply after November 28, which were initially included as part of the broader set of procedures set forth in the application, were resubmitted by the government in a standalone document on November 24, 2015 (“November 24, 2015 Minimization Procedures”).

They would have submitted them on the day Mosman (via Hogan’s signature) approved the request to keep the data. In other words, Mosman made the government generate a document to make it crystal clear the more restrictive rules apply to the dragnet going forward.

The value of the amicus

Whether it was Mosman’s intent when he appointed Burton or not (remember, for better and worse, under USAF the amicus has to do what the FISC asks), his appointment served several purposes.

First, it set Mosman up to make it very clear that the FISC sees the minimization procedures required under USAF do give the FISC expanded authority.

The USA FREEDOM Act made several minimization-related changes to Section 1861. For instance, Section 1861 now provides that, before granting a business records application, the Court must expressly find that the minimization procedures put forth by the government “meet the definition ofminimiz.ation procedures under subsection (g).” See Pub. L. No. 114-23, § 104(a)(l), 129 Stat. at 272. This change is not substantive, however, as such a finding was previously implicit in the broader finding required by Section 1861 ( c )(1) – i.e, “that the application meets the requirements of subsection (a) and (b).” Among the requirements of subsection (b) was – and still is – the requirement that the application include an enumeration of Attorney General-approved minimization procedures that meet the definition set forth in subsection (g). Another change is the addition of a “rule of construction” confirming the Court’s authority “to impose additional, particularized minimization procedures with regard to the production, retention, or dissemination” of certain information regarding United States persons, including “procedures related to the destruction of information within a reasonable time period.” See id. § 104(a)(2), 129 Stat. at 272. A third new provision that takes effect on November 29, 2015, states that orders compelling the ongoing, targeted production of “call detail records” must direct the government to adopt minimization procedures containing certain requirements relating to the destruction of such records. See id Pub. L. No. 114-23, § 10l(b)(3)(F)(vii), 129 Stat. at 270-71.

Remember, it took 7 years — including 4 years of FISC-imposed minimization requirements and reviews — before the government met the requirements of the law as passed in 2006. Significantly, Burton got a classified version of the IG report laying out that delay to read, so he surely knows more about that delay than we do.

In addition, Burton set up the FISC to demand more assurances from the government and — potentially — to push it to come to some more reasonable accommodation with EFF than they otherwise might. Remember, when presiding over the criminal case of Raez Qadir Khan, Mosman was going to grant CIPA discovery on the surveillance used to catch Khan, some of which almost certainly included one (Stellar Wind) or another (the PRTT Internet dragnet) of the illegal dragnets, which led almost immediately to a plea deal.

I’m, frankly, pleasantly surprised. Whether it was Mosman’s intent or not, even picking someone without an obvious brief for privacy, Burton helped Mosman shore up the authority of the FISC to ride herd over government spying (and given Judge Hogan’s involvement along the way, he presumably did so with the assent of the presiding FISC judge).

In any case, Mosman was happy with how it all worked out, as he included this footnote in his opinion.

The Court wishes to thank Mr. Burton for his work in this matter. His written and oral presentations were extremely informative to the Court’s consideration of the issues addressed herein. The Court is grateful for his willingness to serve in this capacity.

John Bates, speaking inappropriately on behalf of the FISA Court during USAF debates, squealed mightily about the role an amicus had. Admittedly, the current form is closer to what Bates (who I’ve always suspected was speaking on behalf of John Roberts more than the court) wanted than what reformers wanted.

But at least in this instance, the amicus helped the FISC shore up its authority vis a vis the government.

Update: Richard Posey notes the reference to Burton’s “oral” presentations in the thank you footnote, which suggests he was at the November 20 hearing.  Read more

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Awkward Timing of the 2nd Circuit Denial of ACLU’s Request for a Phone Dragnet Injunction

The 2nd circuit just denied the ACLU’s request for an injunction in the phone dragnet, finding that Congress intended to let the dragnet continue for 6 months after passage of USA F-ReDux.

That’s not all that surprising, but it also means the 2nd circuit is dodging constitutional issues for now (in part by claiming Congress had adopted their reasoning on the meaning of “relevant to,” which it did not; I will return to this).

But the court remanded the case on one main issue: what happens on November 29, when the 6 month transition period ends.

Appellants and the government disagree, however, regarding the mootness of the final relief requested after November 29: an injunction that would require the government to end the telephone metadata program and purge records collected unlawfully.  Appellants argue that the government intends to retain the records “indefinitely,” and are under no outside obligation to purge them, and thus that their claims for relief will not become moot on November 29.  The government argues that the claims will be moot on November 29, because the telephone metadata program will cease at that time, and an order enjoining the telephone metadata program will have no effect.

Further, the government notes that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has announced that the government will not use § 215 data for law enforcement or investigatory purposes after November 29.  See Statement by the ODNI on Retention of Data Collected Under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (July 27, 2015).  Additionally, the government states that it will destroy all records as soon as possible after the government’s litigation‐preservation obligations end, id., and thus Appellants’ requests that their information no longer be queried and that their records be purged will also be moot.

[snip]

We do not address whether Appellants’ claims will become moot on November 29, and leave this, and all other remaining questions, to the district court in the first instance.

While I don’t expect much to come of this question either, it is rather awkward that the court has chosen to remand that decision today, of all days.

As it is, the 2nd circuit misses one development in this case, which is that after declaring on July 27 that they were going to keep the data but not use it for law enforcement purposes, the FISC then refused the government’s request to just rubber stamp that decision. So the question of what will happen with the data is still being review at the FISC.

Not only that, but today is also the deadline Michael Mosman set for FISC-appointed amicus Preston Burton to submit his first brief on this question.

So Burton will submit something — there’s no reason to think we’ll get to see all of his brief — without the benefit of knowing that ACLU may still contest whatever he argues for regarding the use of the data past November 29. And of course, one reason the government may need to keep that data past November 29 is because EFF has a protection order that requires they keep it for their lawsuit(s).

That still doesn’t mean anything all that interesting will come of this, but we do have two courts addressing the same question at the same time, without full notice of the other.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Michael Mosman’s Deadlines Raise (More) Questions about the FISC Advocate

In the series of letters purporting to speak for “the judiciary,” Director of the Administrative Office of US Courts John Bates and (after Duff replaced him) James Duff expressed concern about how a FISC amicus would affect the timeliness of proceedings before the court. Bates worried that any involvement of an amicus would require even more lead time than the current one week requirement in FISC applications. He also worried that the presumption an amicus (and potentially tech experts) would have access to information might set off disputes with the Executive over whether they could really have it. Duff apparently worried that the perception that an amicus would oppose the government would lead the government to delay in handing over materials to the FISC.

Which is why I’m interesting in the briefing order Chief FISC Judge Thomas Hogan, signing for Michael Mosman, issued on Wednesday (see below for a timeline).

Back on September 17, Mosman appointed spook lawyer Preston Burton amicus. As part of that order, he gave the government 4 days to refuse to share information with Burton, but otherwise required Burton receive the application and primary order in this docket.

(Pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(6)(A)(i), the Court has determined that the government’s application (including exhibits and attachments) and the full, unredacted Primary Order in this docket are relevant to the duties of the amicus. By September 22, 2015, or after receiving confirmation from SEPS that the amicus has received the appropriate clearances and access approvals for such materials, whichever is later, the Clerk of the Court shall make these materials available to the amicus.

Yet even after the almost month long delay in deciding to appoint someone and deciding that someone would be Burton, it still took Mosman two weeks after the date when Burton was supposed to have received the relevant information on this issue before setting deadlines. And in setting his deadlines, Mosman has basically left himself only 2 weeks during which time he will have to to decide the issue and the government will have to prepare to keep or destroy the data in question (in past data destruction efforts it has taken a fairly long time). That could be particularly problematic if Mosman ends up requiring the government to pull the data from EFF’s clients from the data retained under their protection order.

On November 28, the order authorizing the retention of this data expires.

To be fair, Mosman is definitely making a more concerted effort to comply with the appearance if not the intent of USA F-ReDux’s amicus provision than, say, Dennis Saylor (who blew if off entirely). And there may be aspects of this process — and FISC’s presumed effort to start coming up with a panel of amici by November 29 — that will take more time than future instances down the road.

Still, it’s hard to understand the almost 3 week delay in setting a briefing schedule.

Unless the government slow-walked giving even a spook lawyer not explicitly ordered to represent the interests of privacy approval to receive and then a packet of documents to review.

I suspect this represents a stall by the government, not FISC (though again, the month long delay in deciding to appoint an amicus didn’t help things, and FISC’s thus far 4 month delay in picking amici likely doesn’t help either). But whatever the cause of the delay, it may indicate a reluctance on someone’s part to use the amicus as intended.

Timeline

July 27: ODNI declares that “NSA has determined” that “NSA will allow technical personnel to continue to have access to the historical metadata for an additional three months”

By August 20: Government asks for permission to retain data past November 28 (the government must submit major FISA orders at least a week in advance)

August 27: Mosman approves dragnet order, defers decision on data retention

September 17: Mosman appoints Burton and orders the government to cough up its application and the full order

September 21: Last date by which government can complain about sharing information with Burton

September 22: Date by which Burton must receive application and order

October 7: Mosman sets deadlines

October 29: Deadline for Burton’s first brief

November 6: Deadline for Government response

November 10: Deadline for Burton reply, if any

November 28: Expiration of authorization to retain data

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Preston Burton Was Not Necessarily Appointed to Represent Privacy Interests; Was He Appointed to Undercut EFF?

In my post on Michael Mosman’s appointment of Preston Burton as an amicus to decide whether NSA should be permitted to keep bulk telephony data collected under section 215 past November 28, 2015 I noted he was appointed pursuant to provisions of USA F-ReDux. But I want to correct something: Burton was not — at least not necessarily — appointed to protect civil liberties and privacy.

In his order appointing Burton, here’s how Mosman cited USA F-ReDux.

This appointment is made pursuant to section, 103(i)(2)(B) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(B), as most recently amended by the USA FREEDOM Act, Pub. L. No. 114-23, 129 Stat. 268, 272 (2015).

[snip]

By the terms of 50 U.S.C. § 1803(i)(2)(A), the Court “shall appoint” to serve as amicus curiae an individual who has been designated as eligible for such service under section 1803(i)(l) “to assist … in the consideration of any application for an order or review that, in the opinion of the court, presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law, unless the court issues a finding that such appointment is not appropriate.” Under section 1803(i)(l), the presiding judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review have until November 29, 2015, to jointly designate individuals to serve as amici under section  1803(i)(l). 1 To date, no such designations have been made. Under present circumstances, therefore, the appointment of such an individual “is not appropriate” under section 1803(i)(2)(A), because, as of yet, there are no designated individuals who can serve.

Section 1803(i)(2)(B) provides that the Court “may appoint an individual or organization to serve as amicus curiae … in any instance as such court deems appropriate.” Persons appointed under this provision need not have been designated under section 1803(i)(l ). Pursuant to section l 803(i)(3)(B), however, they must “be persons who are determined to be eligible for access to classified information, if such access is necessary to participate in the matters in which they may be appointed.”

Here, the Court finds it appropriate to appoint Preston Burton as amicus curiae under section 1803(i)(2)(B). Mr. Burton is well qualified to assist the Court in considering the issue specified herein. The Security and Emergency Planning Staff (SEPS) of the Department of Justice has advised that he is eligible for access to classified information.

Effectively, he points to the new language on amicus curiae as “codifying” the authority FISC already had (and has already used, when permitting Center for National Security Studies to file an amicus on phone dragnet orders and tech companies to submit amici briefs in discussions about transparency, though the latter was dismissed before the court considered those briefs, not to mention FISCR’s permission of ACLU and NACDL to submit briefs in In Re Sealed Case in 2002).

He then notes that he cannot appoint one of the 5 selected amici set up to consider “novel or significant interpretation of law” because FISC hasn’t gotten around to appointing those 5 people yet (they have until early December to do so and seem to be taking their time).

He then points to a second means of appointing an amicus — 1803(i)(2)(B) — which says the court “may” appoint an amicus “in any instance as such court deems appropriate or, upon motion, permit an individual or organization leave to file an amicus curiae brief,” as his basis for appointing Burton.

Mosman doesn’t explain why he “finds it appropriate” to appoint an amicus here, unlike when he deemed FreedomWorks an amicus addressing the issue of whether USA F-ReDux restored the phone dragnet to its prior state and therefore justified another phone dragnet order. This is what he said in that instance.

The Court finds that the government’s application “presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law” within the meaning of section 103(i)(2)(A). Because, understandably, no one has yet been designated as eligible to be appointed as an amicus curiae under section 103(i)(2)(A), appointment under that provision is not appropriate. Instead, the Court has chosen to appoint the Movants as amici curiae under section 103(i)(2)(B) for the limited purpose of presenting their legal arguments as stated in the Motion in Opposition and subsequent submissions to date.

Nor does Mosman explain what, in particular, qualifies Burton to serve as amicus here, which might provide some insight as to why he decided it appropriate to appoint an amicus at all. He just says he’s qualified and is eligible for access to classified information. Even under the appointed amici, FISC can appoint someone for reasons other than privacy, and that’s all the more true for this optional appointment.

So reports — including by me! — that Burton would represent the interests of civil liberties may not be correct. For all we know, he could be representing the interests of the spies or DC Madams.

I find Mosman’s silence on his appointment of Burton interesting for two reasons.

First, the genesis of this entire request and deferral is unclear. Back in July — after it had gotten its first post-USA F-ReDux order, and a month before this current one was approved — ODNI issued a statement out of the blue asserting they could keep the data.

On June 29, 2015, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Government’s application to resume the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program pursuant to the USA FREEDOM Act’s 180-day transition provision. As part of our effort to transition to the new authority, we have evaluated whether NSA should maintain access to the historical metadata after the conclusion of that 180-day period.

NSA has determined that analytic access to that historical metadata collected under Section 215 (any data collected before November 29, 2015) will cease on November 29, 2015. However, solely for data integrity purposes to verify the records produced under the new targeted production authorized by the USA FREEDOM Act, NSA will allow technical personnel to continue to have access to the historical metadata for an additional three months.

Separately, NSA remains under a continuing legal obligation to preserve its bulk 215 telephony metadata collection until civil litigation regarding the program is resolved, or the relevant courts relieve NSA of such obligations. The telephony metadata preserved solely because of preservation obligations in pending civil litigation will not be used or accessed for any other purpose, and, as soon as possible, NSA will destroy the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations.

When that second dragnet order came out in August, I noticed NSA had applied for authority to keep the data, but that Mosman had deferred his answer to whether they could.

The Application requests authority for the Government to retain BR metadata after November 28, 2015, in accordance with the Opinion and Order of this Court issued on March 12,. 2014 in docket number BR 14-01, and subject to the conditions stated therein, including the requirement to notify this Court of any material developments in civil litigation pertaining to such BR metadata. The Application also requests authority, for a period ending on February 29, 2016 for appropriately trained and authorized technical personnel (described in subparagraph B. above) to access BR metadata to verify the completeness and accuracy of call detail records produced under the targeted production orders authorized by the USA FREEDOM Act. The Court is taking these requests under advisement and will address them in a subsequent order or orders. Accordingly, this Primary Order does not authorize the retention and use of BR metadata beyond November 28, 2015.

So for some reason, ODNI was asserting they were going to keep the data before they had asked whether they could — or perhaps when ODNI made that assertion someone at DOJ or in FISC realized they needed to ask permission first. I have asked ODNI for an explanation on this. Update: ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt didn’t exactly explain the timing, but did say “No one ever had any doubt that we would have to ask the court” for permission to keep this data.

But I also find Mosman’s silence about why he appointed Burton curious given that the FISC judge clearly thinks both retention issues — whether the data should be retained under EFF’s protection order issued in NDCA, and whether the data can be retained for 3 months after expiration of the 6 month extension for technical verification — are at issue.

That’s because there’s a far more qualified potential amicus to address the EFF retention issue: EFF. Indeed, Jon Eisenberg, who argued the al-Haramain suit, is a Special Counsel associated with EFF, and he either still has or is qualified to have a Top Secret clearance, and still gets classified documents in Gitmo detainee suits. Particularly given DOJ’s serial failure to accurately represent the nature of EFF’s suit (post one, post two, post three), and DOJ’s failure to notice Reggie Walton (to say nothing of Yahoo itself) of all issues relevant to Yahoo’s challenge of Protect America Act, it would be far better to have someone who has worked on these issues already and who at least has an association with EFF to weigh in, because the FISC is going to get a far better idea of the issues involved, including the stakes for privacy. So why did Mosman appoint a less qualified amicus to address this issue?

Luckily, in deeming FreedomWorks an appropriate amicus in June, Mosman has demonstrated a willingness to appoint amici for the other reason permitted under 103(i)(2)(B), because an organization asks for leave to file one. So maybe EFF should ask! I’ve asked EFF if they will respond to this appointment, but have not received an answer.

The big question, in that situation, would be whether EFF would be given the same information he has already promised to Burton, which includes the application to the court. Again, given DOJ’s serial misinformation of the court on the EFF request, it would sure be interesting to see what representations it made in that application.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Q: Whose Secrets Are More Sensitive than the DC Madam’s? A: NSA’s.

On September 17, FISC Judge Michael Mosman appointed the first known amicus under the terms laid out in USA F-ReDux; notice of which got posted yesterday (Mosman could have done so before USA F-ReDux, of course, but he did cite the statute in making the appointment). The question this amicus will help him determine is whether FISC should permit the government to retain bulk collected data past November 28, when the six month extension of the program ends. The government wants to retain the data it is collecting today for three months to make sure the new dragnet program collects the same data as the last one. But the data in question also includes data being held under an old protection order renewed last year as part of EFF’s suits against government dragnets; I suspect that data would show the extent to which one of the plaintiffs in EFF’s First Unitarian Church suit was dragnetted, and as such is critical to showing injury in that suit.

Mosman had deferred the decision on whether or not to let the government keep that data when he signed the August 28 dragnet order.

So who is the lawyer who will represent the interests of civil liberties and privacy in this question? [Update: In this post, I note Mosman may not have appointed Burton to represent privacy at all.]

White collar defense attorney Preston Burton. In addition to Russian moles Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, Burton represented Monica Lewinsky and the DC Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Burton is, undoubtedly, an excellent lawyer. And his experience representing the biggest spies of the last several decades surely qualifies him to work with the phone dragnet data, including data that probably shows NSA mapped out an entire civil liberties’ organization’s structure using the phone dragnet 5 years ago. Though given this description, it’s not clear Burton would learn of that information from the government’s application, which is what he’ll get.

Pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § l 803(i)(6)(A)(i), the Court has detennined that the government’s application (including exhibits and attachments) and the full, unredacted Primary Order in this docket are relevant to the duties of the amicus. By September 22, 2015, or after receiving confirmation from SEPS that the amicus has received the appropriate clearances and access approvals for such materials, whichever is later, the Clerk of the Court shall make these materials available to the amicus.

Moreover, remember the government can claim privilege over this data and not share it with Burton. Mosman even invited the government to tell the Court sharing information with Burton was not consistent with national security (though he set a deadline for doing so for September 21, so I assume they did not complain).

But it’s entirely unclear to me why Burton would be picked to represent the privacy interests of Americans, including those whose First Amendment rights had been violated under this program, in deciding whether to keep or destroy this data. Mosman made no mention of those interests when he explained his choice.

Mr. Burton is well qualified to assist the Court in considering the issue specified herein. The Security and Emergency Planning Staff (SEPS) of the Department of Justice has advised that he is eligible for access to classified information.

Which is why I take this to be one more in the series of Burton’s famous clients, in which discretion about DC’s secrets is the most important factor.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.