The “Other Authority” Footnote

For a variety of reasons, I want to track backward what appears to happen to a footnote in the phone dragnet that currently addresses dragnet records from other authorities, as it appears here in the July 18, 2013 Primary Order.

The Court understands that NSA receives certain call detail records pursuant to other authority, in addition to call records produced in response to this Court’s Orders. NSA shall store, handle, and disseminate call detail records produced in response to this Court’s Orders pursuant to this Order [3 lines redacted].

The footnote is currently the second footnote off of paragraph 3(c)(iii) about the timeline on RAS authorizations. The footnote was entirely redacted, but still 7 lines, in BR 13-80. It appears to be longer — perhaps 11 lines — in BR 11-107. It appears the same size, but split from the first of two footnotes, in BR 11-57 and BR 11-07; it appears a line or two longer in BR 10-70. The typeface is different but it appears equivalent in BR 10-49, and  BR 10-17.

The footnote in that position — now numbered footnote 7 — appears largely unredacted in BR 10-10. It reads:

The Court understands that call detail records of foreign-to-foreign communications provided by [redacted] pursuant to this Order will not be used to make chain summary records. Further, such records will be used solely for technical purposes, including use by NSA’s data integrity analysts to correctly interpret and extract contact information in [redacted] international records. In the event that an NSA analyst performs an authorized query that includes a search of the BR metadata, and the results of that query include information from [redacted] foreign-to-foreign call detail records, NSA shall handle and minimize the information in those records in accordance with the minimization procedures in this Order, regardless of the authority pursuant to which NSA obtained the record. In contrast, if the analyst’s query does not include a search of the BR metadata, and the results of that query include information from [redacted] foreign-to-foreign call detail records, then the minimization procedures in this Order shall not be applied to the information in those records.

Primary Orders BR 09-19 and 09-15 are two of three the government is withholding from that year. The footnote is entirely redacted in BR 09-13. BR 09-09 is the third Primary Order withheld from that year (that is the order that shuts down one provider’s production — presumed to be Verizon — because of the foreign-to-foreign inclusion). BR 09-06 doesn’t split out the custodian of the third provider, though includes foreign-to-foreign language; because the structure of this Order is different, it is impossible to tell whether the equivalent footnote appears. BR 09-01 doesn’t even include the foreign-to-foreign language.

Which is an elaborate way of surmising (though we can’t be sure with the redactions) that the footnote retains a related function between the time it maps out what to do with foreign-to-foreign data and the time it currently appears to say that BR FISA data must be treated according to BR FISA rules.

As I laid out here, that appears to stem from an issue dating to 2009 when Verizon turned over all its call records, including its foreign-to-foreign ones, under BR FISA (though the redactions in the BR 10-10 footnote are shorter — maybe 4-5 characters, so it’s possible this happened with a second provider as well). What appears to have happened is FISC shut down their production for a period, resumed it, then tried to deal with the problem with minimization procedures. Over time, the footnote dealing with that evolved into a more general footnote requiring that BR FISA data be treated with BR FISA rules, no matter what ever else happened. This would mean that if Verizon or another telecom provider made the same mistake, NSA would have access to its foreign data for a shorter period of time and subject to much narrower dissemination rules.

Sometime between 2009 and 2011, NSA started putting XML tags on each new piece of data, so it could track where the data came from, presumably to make this process easier, but also so it could run queries under whatever authority provided it with easier minimization rules. That XML system would permit the NSA to comply with the footnote in BR 10-10 easily, by tracking precisely where the data came from.

January 8, 2010: A Remarkably Busy Day in Telecom Law

I Con the Record has just released a bunch of new documents, showing how (according to Ellen Nakashima) Sprint challenged a dragnet order, and in response got to see the FISA Court opinions authorizing the program. (Well, not really the telecom opinion; rather they mostly authorize the PRTT program.)

The official story goes like this:

In early 2009, Sprint received an order saying that all customer call records had to be turned over to the government, current and former officials said. Over the summer and fall, the company’s executives met several times with Justice Department officials to understand how Section 215, which compelled companies to turn over records relevant to investigations, could be used to mandate the transfer of all call records.

Dissatisfied with their answers, Sussmann, the Sprint attorney, wrote a detailed petition to challenge the order. In late 2009, shortly before the petition was to be filed, Robert S. Litt, the top intelligence official for the U.S. intelligence community, pressed officials to provide the legal rationale to the company, according to a former administration official.

Intelligence officials then furnished several court rulings, in particular, a 2004 opinion written by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, then chief judge of the surveillance court, according to the documents released Wednesday. While the opinion related to the collection of e-mail addressing information, the legal rationale was identical.

But there are a few more details I find exceedingly interesting.

First, here’s what the government declassified in response to Sprint’s challenge:

  • Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s July 24 [14], 2004 opinion (the government is only now admitting the date)
  • Response to Orders for Additional Briefing (it’s unclear whether this is PRTT or phone dragnet, but given the order, I’m guessing PRTT)
  • Opinion (again, it’s unclear whether this is PRTT or phone dragnet)
  • The original application for the dragnet, including all exhibits, and the original dragnet order (note, we’ve not seen all the exhibits)
  • The application, including all exhibits, the Primary Order, and Reggie Walton’s supplemental order finding the phone dragnet did not violate ECPA

That is, not only the opinions authorizing the “relevant to” bullshit used to justify the program, but also the opinion stating that the dragnet did not violate ECPA.

And here’s the other thing I find so interesting. The motion to unseal the records is dated January 7, 2010. The motion for more time, the order granting it, and the order approving the unsealing of the records were all dated January 8, 2010.

January 8, 2010, January 8, 2010, January 8, 2010.

On January 8, 2010, DOJ’s OLC issued an order finding that ECPA permitted telecoms to hand over toll records to the government voluntarily for certain kinds of investigations. OLC wrote that opinion because DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine had been investigating National Security Letters (and, oh by the way, Section 215) for years, and found big problems, at least, with the paperwork FBI handed 3 telecoms who were living onsite at FBI. We found out about the order almost immediately, when Fine issued his report later that month.

I’ve long suspected that Reggie Walton only considered the ECPA question both because of Fine’s ongoing NSL investigation but, probably, also because of whatever conclusions Fine drew in his examination of the illegal wiretap program (I suspect FISC only considered financial records for the same reason, Fine’s 215 investigation in 2010) and potentially his ongoing investigations of Section 215.

And now we know that just as Fine was raising real questions about the legality of the incestuous record-sharing the government and the telecoms had been engaged in for years (one that’s about to start again with the new “reformed” dragnet), Sprint not only demanded the underlying records authorizing the dragnet, but even the supplemental opinion finding the dragnet didn’t violate ECPA.

Here’s what I wrote 4 years ago about that OLC opinion.

  • As I will explain at length later, this OLC opinion may not relate exclusively to the use of exigent letters, not least because Inspector General Glenn Fine appears worried the FBI will use it prospectively, not just to retroactively rationalize abuses from the past.
  • Fine appears to disagree whether the FBI has represented what it was doing with exigent letters honestly in its request for an opinion to the OLC. This is at least the second time they have done so, Fine alleges, in their attempts to justify these practices. In this case, the dispute may pertain to whose phone records they were, what was included among them, and whether they pertained to an ongoing investigation.
  • My guess is that the OLC opinion addresses whether section 2701 of the Stored Communications Act allows electronic communication providers to voluntarily provide data to someone above and beyond the narrow statutory permission to do so in 2702 and 2709 of the Act.
  • Whatever the loophole FBI is exploiting, it appears to be a use that would have no protections for First Amendment activity, no requirement that the data relate to open investigations, and no minimization or reporting requirements. That is, through its acquisition of this OLC opinion, the FBI appears to have opened up a giant, completely unlimited loophole to access phone data that it could use prospectively (though the FBI claims it doesn’t intend to). Much of Fine’s language here is an attempt to close this loophole.

In January, EFF lost its bid to obtain that memo in the DC Circuit.

Now, what are the chances that Sprint also didn’t get a looksee at the OLC memo authorizing not just what the FISC had approved, but also the violative Section 215 collection that had been in place until early 2009?

What are the chances that that OLC opinion, dated January 8, 2010 and pertaining to ECPA, is unrelated to the decision to declassify the FISC opinion assessing whether the phone dragnet violated ECPA?

A Key Part of RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix Reform: Pay the Telecoms

Here’s an interesting “reform” in the RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix. It pays the telecoms.

COMPENSATION AND ASSISTANCE.–The Government shall compensate, at the prevailing rate, an electronic communications service provider for providing records in accordance with directives issued pursuant to [their bill].

Section 215 does not include such a payment provision. And while the first two phone dragnet orders included provision for such payments, that was probably illegal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the government has found some way to pay the telecoms, either through added payments for AT&T’s Hemisphere program or gifts in kind. (Though given the timing of DOJ’s suit against Sprint for over-billing, I do wonder whether the government is retaliating for something.) Telecoms don’t spy for free, so I’m sure they’ve been getting paid, illegally, for the last 8 years of dragnet spying they’ve been doing.

But the lack of such provision in Section 215 should have limited the scope of the dragnet. It should have required that requests be so narrow no telecom was going to send big bills to the government every month. And it presumably made the telecoms (well, except for AT&T, which never met a spying request it didn’t love) less willing to interpret orders from the government expansively.

The inclusion of such a compensation clause in the RuppRoge “reform” makes it even more likely this dragnet will expand with the now well-oiled willingness of the telecoms to go above and beyond the letter of the request.

Which is presumably just how the NSA wants it to be.

WTF Sprint Suit?

As a number of outlets have reported, the government is suing Sprint for $63 million under the False Claims Act, claiming the telecom overbilled federal law enforcement agencies by charging for its CALEA modification costs in its wiretap charges.

On May 12, 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) resolved a dispute between law enforcement agencies and telecommunications carriers, and ruled that carriers were prohibited from using their intercept charges to recover the costs of modifying equipment, facilities or services that were incurred to comply with CALEA.


Despite the FCC’s clear and unambiguous ruling, Sprint knowingly included in its intercept charges the costs of financing modifications to equipment, facilities, and services installed to comply with CALEA. Because Sprint’s invoices for intercept charges did not identify the particular expenses for which it sought reimbursement, federal law enforcement agencies were unable to detect that Sprint was requesting reimbursement of these unallowable costs.

By including the unallowable costs of financing CALEA modifications in their intercept charges, Sprint inflated its charges by approximately 58%. As a result of Sprint’s false claims, the United States paid over $21 million in unallowable costs from January 1, 2007 to July 31, 2010.

Now, maybe this is just what it appears. Maybe this really is just about Sprint charging for CALEA changes they weren’t permitted to. The LEAs lay out

But I can’t help but wonder whether something else is going on.

Consider, for example, that the CALEA settlement was signed on May 12, 2006, just 12 days before the phone dragnet started. As I’ve noted, the first two phone dragnet orders compensated providers for charges incurred (which is not provided for in the Section 215 statute). And the period during which Sprint allegedly overcharged the government — 2007 to 2010 — is solidly in the middle of the dragnet.

In any case, in the middle of the biggest debate on surveillance in some time, DOJ is calling more attention to it. And DOJ wants a jury trial for this.

Did GCHQ and NSA Lose an Eye Today?

As the business press is crowing, Vodaphone and Verizon are officially divorced.

After pulling off the $130 billion sale, Vodafone will drop from the world’s second-biggest phone company to the fourth, measured by market value, behind China Mobile Ltd., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), data compiled by Bloomberg showed. Vodafone’s weighting in share indexes such as the FTSE 100 in London will be cut approximately in half.

Shareholders will get a return of about 102 pence ($1.70) per share. That’s about $23.9 billion in cash and about $58.6 billion in Verizon Communications shares.

Vodafone’s shares rose 2.8 percent to 236.10 pence at 2:45 p.m. in London. Verizon slipped 0.3 percent to $47.97 in New York.

“This is a great day for Verizon,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said in a statement. “The new Verizon now has full ownership of the U.S. wireless industry leader in network performance, profitability and cash flow.”

The deal will help Vodafone pay off debt and help fund 7 billion pounds of additional network investments by March 2016, adding high-speed broadband and wireless coverage across its largest markets.

And rejoicing was heard on both sides of the Atlantic!

Curiously, though, I seem to be the only one asking what seems to be an obvious question: how will this high level British-US breakup affect the Five Eyes dragnet?

Particularly given reports that Verizon is (was?) one of 7 Tempora providers, I wonder whether splitting with Vodaphone has permitted Verizon to withdraw from compliance with GCHQ data requests.

Back in 2006, USA Today’s report that the NSA had a database of all of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth’s phone records caused one of the telecoms to refuse to turn over data without being legally obligated (and for a number of reasons, it is unlikely AT&T was the provider that demanded an order).

The publication of the Verizon Secondary Order on June 5, 2013 exposed Verizon far more than that 2006 story. And it exposed Verizon uniquely, in a way AT&T and Sprint hadn’t been exposed. ODNI exacerbated that exposure further when it released another document with Verizon’s name unredacted.

If I were Verizon, I would be doing nothing more than the government(s) legally requred me to do. And as of today, Verizon may have one less government with the ability to make such requirements.

Update: On March 4, Verizon’s General Counsel said the Vodaphone/Verizon split will have no effect on Verizon’s obligations to the US.

On the Definition of Dragnet “Identifier”

Last month, I noted that ODNI failed to redact a reference to Verizon in one of the phone dragnet primary orders, which helped to confirm that Verizon was the provider ordered to provide only its domestic or one-end domestic call records to NSA under this order.

I’d like to look at another redaction fail (also, IIRC, pointed out to me Michael) from that document dump.

In the February 25, 2010 order, part of the footnote describing what identifiers NSA can use to contact chain was left unredacted.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 12.42.04 PM

The footnote starts on the previous page; this is the end of the description (the big redaction below it modifies one of the terms in the list of terror groups associations).

Given all the discussion about whether NSA does or does not collect cell phone data, I think it of particular interest that IMSI and IMEI — two ways to identify cell phone users — appear in this footnote. It’s actually not clear whether their inclusions mean they can or cannot be used as identifiers.

But there’s reason to believe the footnote says they can be used as identifiers.

The footnote first appeared in the March 5, 2009 order — the first written after Judge Reggie Walton started trying to clean up the dragnet mess. Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.01.28 PM

By that point, NSA had informed Walton that an additional querying tool had regularly accessed the 215 dragnet to perform analysis of certain identifiers.

If an analyst conducted research supported by [redacted] the analyst would receive a generic notification that NSA’s signals intelligence (“SIGINT”) databases contained one or more references to the telephone identifier in which the analyst was interested; a count of how many times the identifier was present in SIGINT databases; the dates of the first and last call events associated with the identifier; a count of how many other unique telephone identifiers had direct contact with the identifier that was the subject of the analyst’s research; the total number of calls made to or from the telephone identifier that was the subject of the analyst’s research; the ratio of the count of total calls to the count of unique contacts; and the amount of time it took to process the analyst’s query.

But this was before NSA explained it treated all correlated identifiers for a particular RAS-approved person as RAS-approved,

The end-to-end review revealed the fact that NSA’s practice of using correlated selectors to query the BR FISA metadata had not been fully described to the Court. A communications address or selector, is considered correlated with other communications addresses when each additional address is shown to identify the same communicant(s) as the original address.

Though it had provided some kind of description of this practice in an August 18, 2008 filing that almost certainly served as back-up for the August 19, 2008 order that first started specifically ordering IMSI and IMEI data.

A description of how [redacted] is used to correlate [redacted] was included in the government’s 18 August 2008 filing to the FISA Court, While NSA previously described to the FISC the ractice of using correlated selectors as seeds, the FISC never addressed whether [redacted] correlated selectors met the RAS standard when any one of the correlated selectors met the RAS standard. A notice was filed with the FISC can this issue on 15 June 2009.


All of which is to say that several of the items discussed during the 2009 review pertained to how NSA tracked identities over time, particularly phone-based identities that spanned multiple cell phones.

Which would explain why it would want to track both phone numbers themselves, but especially the handset and SIM identifiers (though in the case of burner phone “correlation,” those details wouldn’t help to make a match).

None of this should be surprising. As I said, it would be shocking if the nation’s counterterrorism professionals accepted a dragnet with less functionality than the one available to DEA under AT&T’s Hemisphere program, and a key part of that program involves matching cell phone identities (though remember, Hemisphere at least used to permit tracking of geolocation, too).

But assuming that footnote defining “identifier” affirmatively includes IMSI and IMEI as potential identifiers, which would seem logical, it’s yet one more data point showing how central the use of cell phones is to the dragnet.

That still doesn’t mean the NSA collected cell phone data, or collected it from providers besides AT&T and Sprint. But it sure seems to indicate an priority on such data.

Section 215 FISC Orders Specifically Included Mobile Phone IDs Starting in 2008

I’ve been obsessing on when and whether telecoms turn over cell phone data under Section 215 and EO 12333 for the last several days. So I want to point out a change in the FISC orders for the Section 215 phone dragnet starting in 2008.

Here’s how the April 3, 2008 Section 215 FISC order describes the metadata to be turned over to NSA:

Telephony meta data includes comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, communications device identifier, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call. Telephony meta data does not include the substantive content of any communication, as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2510(8), or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer. [my emphasis]

Here’s how the August 19, 2008 order and (I believe) all subsequent orders describe the metadata to be turned over to the NSA.

Telephony meta data includes comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) numbers, International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call. Telephony meta data does not include the substantive content of any communication, as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2510(8), or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer. [my emphasis]

In both cases, these paragraphs end with a footnote that starts, “The Court understands that the,” followed by redacted language that would probably be very instructive in explaining where and how the telecoms got their data.

The IMSI is a subscriber’s account number — basically the number tied to the SIM card. The IMEI is a phone handset’s ID number. Drone targeting may track both numbers.

Amid claims the NSA doesn’t collect cell phone data, I find it notable that NSA started asking for cell phone identifiers back in 2008. (I find it equally notable that they started asking for IMSI and IMEI on the second docket after NSA put a copy of  the Section 215 data onto the same server as the EO 12333 data). That was also the year that Tempora — under which GCHQ   accessed huge amounts of Internet and phone data off Transatlantic cables, including from Verizon — was first piloted.

I don’t think that proves definitively that NSA was collecting cell phone data (though the WSJ reported last June that it was collecting cell data directly from AT&T and Sprint, with T-Mobile and Verizon data coming from another source). Depending on where providers got the data (on a daily basis, remember) to provide to NSA, they would have the IMSI and IMEI data on phones in contact with their land lines.

But the NSA has been collecting data about cell phones at least since 2008.

Which raises real questions about claims they don’t know how to integrate cell phone data into their database.

Update: To answer Dr. Pitchfork’s question, 4 national journalists reported on Friday that the NSA only “gets” 20 to 30% of US phone data because they don’t get cell data. Even ignoring details like the explicit mention of cell data in the 215 orders, their story doesn’t make any sense. I think the real problem may arise from a recent FISC order and Verizon’s split from Vodaphone.

The Sevenfold Increase in Emergencies at AT&T

In its response to Ed Markey’s questions about law enforcement requests for cellphone data, AT&T attributed the growing number of requests it gets to its expanding customer base.

To keep these numbers in perspective, AT&T serves over 103,200,000 wireless customers (in 2007, by contrast AT&T served just over 70,000,000 wireless customers).

But that can’t explain the entire increase: only one category of request–requests like orders and warrants requiring court oversight–has gone up at or below the 47% increase in AT&T’s customer base. All other categories have increased at a faster pace.

What’s particularly striking is how many more non-PSAP (that is, non 911 call) exigent requests AT&T has gotten: a more than sevenfold increase.

Now, AT&T doesn’t explain how it treats such requests legally or practically. By comparison, US Cellular cites the language from 18 USC 2518(7)–including language permitting the release of information for “conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest”–in its exigent request section (see Exhibit 1, page 1); that law requires requestors to submit paperwork for the order or warrant within 48 hours. Sprint cites 18 USC 2702(c)(4) explicitly, which doesn’t include the time limit; but Sprint imposes one itself, even while emphasizing providing this information is voluntary.

For example, Section 2702(c)(4) of the SCA permits Sprint to comply with law enforcement requests in emergency situations when Sprint believes there is an emergency involving danger of imminent death or serious physical injury. In those circumstances, our processes require law enforcement to fax in a form which we use to authenticate the law enforcement requestor and to help verify that an appropriate emergency exists. After being satisfied that the statutory requirements have been met, the Sprint analyst will comply with the request but only for 48 hours, providing law enforcement with sufficient time to obtain appropriate legal processes. To be clear, in these particular circumstances, providing information to law enforcement is not required and Sprint could decide that it will not comply with these emergency requests. Sprint has determined, though, that on balance it is in the interest of our customers and members of the general public who may be at risk to comply with emergency requests, particularly since they often involve very serious life-threatening situations such as kidnapping, child abduction and carjacking.

AT&T doesn’t cite the law directly, but its description matches 2702(c)(4) and therefore would not legally require a follow-up application. Verizon cites 2702(c)(4) explicitly.

Note that this means AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are treating cell location as a record, not content. Sprint provides this–sort of–explanation for it.

Nonetheless, there are circumstances, which are outlined in the applicable statutes, where information can be disclosed to law enforcement with the consent of the customer or in certain emergency situations. In those cases, Sprint still requires appropriate documentation, and although it may not be a legal demand, per se, it is legally permissible for Sprint to provide the information under the statute, as discussed herein.


Sprint has business records that contain information on the location of a wireless device based on that device’s proximity to nearby cell towers. The information in Sprint’s records is often referred to as “historic” or “stored” location as it is customer information of a historic nature that is stored by Sprint for its own business purposes. For example, Sprint uses this information for certain billing, taxing, network troubleshooting and capacity planning purposes. Sprint also has the capability to determine the location of a cell phone in real time by using GPS technology.

The location information contained in Sprint’s business records is not basic subscriber information as defined by the statute but is information Sprint has relating to its customers’ mobile device usage. Consequently, a court order based on “specific and articulable facts” is required prior to disclosure of that information to law enforcement.


There is no statute that directly addresses the provision of location data of a mobile device to the government.

The explanation doesn’t really say whether it treats a GPS reading as a stored record or not–probably because that’s where this interpretation gets dicey.

Sprint goes on to suggest Congress provide some clarity about this cell location data. (It also note the government interprets the law to require the cell company to provide not just the target caller location, but also the “location of associates on a call with the target.”)

Not so AT&T, which seems to be giving this information out like candy in the name of exigent circumstances. And unlike Sprint, it’s not clear AT&T (or Verizon) imposes any requirements on how long such emergencies can last.

But then, it’s not just AT&T. The government, too, seems to want to declare a permanent state of emergency so it can get all our cell data anytime it wants.

Update: Transcription error fixed per joberly.

Update: Table corrected per Anchard.