Obama Expands Bush Data Mining Program
Apparently, it’s not just reporters whose phone logs the Obama administration is tracking.
Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian (“NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily“):
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.
Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.
The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.
NYT (“U.S. Is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls“):
The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order disclosed on Wednesday night.
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April, directs a Verizon Communications subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services, to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” to the National Security Agency all call logs “between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The order does not apply to the content of the communications.
Verizon Business Network Services is one of the nation’s largest telecommunications and Internet providers for corporations. It is not clear whether similar orders have gone to other parts of Verizon, like its residential or cellphone services, or to other telecommunications carriers. The order prohibits its recipient from discussing its existence, and representatives of both Verizon and AT&T declined to comment Wednesday evening.
Naturally, civil libertarians are concerned.
The ACLU (“Massive NSA Phone Data-Mining Operation Revealed“):
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director. “It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”
“Now that this unconstitutional surveillance effort has been revealed, the government should end it and disclose its full scope, and Congress should initiate a full investigation,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public’s and the government’s understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress. Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability.”
AP has the White House story:
The White House on Thursday defended the National Security Agency’s need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.”
While defending the practice, a senior Obama administration official did not confirm a newspaper report that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order.
The administration official said, “On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls.”
Despite my libertarian leanings, I’m not convinced this is outrageous. As with the Bush program, it strikes me as potentially defensible depending on how it’s used. That is, I have no inherent problem with pure “data mining.” If all the government is doing is collecting mass amounts of phone record data and then sifting it using computer algorithms for patterns that comport with known terrorist habits, I’m not sure why that’s problematic. Nobody’s privacy is meaningfully invaded if that’s all that’s happening. If, on the other hand, individuals are being targeted without reasonable suspicion and the mass collection is a way to get around the requirement to prove the need for a warrant, then this is outrageous and unconstitutional. And, of course, even if the intent is the former, the mere possession of this information leads to the possibility of rogue agents abusing it. But that may well be outweighed by the intelligence value.