Thursday, June 06, 2013

FISA court gave NSA authority to monitor local phone call data

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean no one's out to get you, the old saying goes, and despite commenters recently accusing Grits of paranoia and "tin-foil hat" thinking vis a vis electronic privacy, headlines like this one today from the Guardian (UK) - "NSA collecting phone records from millions of Verizon customers daily" - seem to confirm some healthy skepticism is in order. The story opened:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government's domestic spying powers.
Remarkably, the order (see here) included "all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." So no content, but basically the header information from the phones of both parties. Still, local phone calls, too? Wow. Talk about a Big Data Bonanza! Perhaps Grits hasn't been paranoid enough.

MORE: From Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy. AND MORE: See a followup from the Guardian and related coverage from the Washington Post. By one account, the NSA gathers information in this fashion from more than 50 companies. ALSO: AP has an excellent Q&A parsing the scope of the NSA phone-data order.

POSTSCRIPT: According to the bevy of followup reporting on this yesterday, data from this order was going into a massive database of Americans' phone calls that the feds began compiling seven years ago. In the coming days and weeks there will be many calls for this program to be discontinued. Grits considers it critical that those political efforts also focus on demands that the database itself be destroyed.


Anonymous said...

This is the last straw! It's time to impeach Bush!!! Huh? What did you say??? :-)

Anonymous said...

Anyone with any sense knew the Patriot Act would lead to this type of abuse. And it really has nothing to do with terrorists, and it isn't a republican or democrat thing, it's government vs citizens thing. Maybe this will end the political divide and unite all of us against our government.

JohnT said...

I assume that AT&T and other phone service providers also turn over the same type data to the NSA. Also, all email (at least from-to), web browsing, etc.

For a measured reaction please see Orin Kerr's blog entry at the Volokh Conspiracy. He observes that only the 3-page FISA order was revealed, but the context is still unknown. See

Sorry for the tiny url, but the blog post url was simply too long.

BTW, Kerr also speculates on possibly more extensive dragnet searches under the Computer Crime law than just evidence gathering for a specific computer crime.

Anonymous said...

Here's another good article describing this:

An Attorney said...

There is a difference between collecting and preserving the massive data set and mining it. If a separate warrant is required for the mining, and that has to be specific, then there is less to be concerned about this. However, it is important to verify that the mining is limited to targets in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ An Attorney, it's not true that a separate "warrant" is required for the mining. They don't have to demonstrate probable cause and instead are reportedly using sealed orders based on a "reasonable suspicion" standard to access the database.

In that light, it's disingenuous to refer to them complying with the Fourth Amendment, which deals in probable cause and warrants. That's not what's going on here.

Anonymous said...

Already Hillary and other government spokespersons are reminding us that they, our government, are "preventing future Boston bombings." However, they didn't prevent the last one! And we now know this abuse of power is not new.
I would repeat the warning that giving up your civil rights in the name of "protection" will result in losing both!! (I know I'm paraphrasing B. Franklin)

Anonymous said...

Houston Chronicle, Friday, June 7, 2013 (1984): Texas lawmakers complain about domestic spying, but most voted to allow it

"A lot of Republicans in the Texas delegation are griping today about the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. But over the past decade — in a series of five votes — very few current GOP members of the Texas congressional delegation have voted against requests by Presidents Bush or Obama to increase federal government power over Internet data and phone records.

Only one current member of the Texas delegation — Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston — can say she has never voted for expanded FISA powers."

rodsmith said...

personaly considering this is supossed to be a republic one person one vote. Where the govt get's it's power from us. I don't consider any SECRET order legal no matter who issues it. The same goes for so-called "unpublished" or "unsigned" orders from judges.

Anyone issuing or supporting such should be removed as the treasnous little nazi wannabee's they are!

Anonymous said...

So what exactly is the problem here?

A few weeks ago everyone was bitching about the 'stove piping' of intelligence from Russia who told us the Tsaernev brothers might be radical and therefore could have prevent the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Now we're worried that the NSA might be sharing their intelligence with domestic law enforcement to prosecute crimes beyond the terrorism mandate, right?

Then ask for a law specifically prohibiting those activities if you really think it's a problem.