A Phone Company Fought the NSA — And the NSA Won

A surveillance court ordered the company to hand over its customers’ data.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
April 25, 2014, 2:06 p.m.

An un­named phone com­pany re­cently res­isted a Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency de­mand for ac­cess to its sub­scribers’ data, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments de­clas­si­fied Fri­day.

But on March 20, the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court re­jec­ted the com­pany’s mo­tion and ordered it to con­tin­ue turn­ing the re­cords over to the NSA. The gov­ern­ment re­dac­ted the name of the com­pany and oth­er in­form­a­tion from the doc­u­ments.

It was ap­par­ently the first time any phone com­pany tried to fight the NSA’s con­tro­ver­sial mass-sur­veil­lance pro­gram. A fed­er­al judge wrote last year that no phone com­pany had res­isted the pro­gram, which the NSA claims is au­thor­ized un­der Sec­tion 215 of the Pat­ri­ot Act.

The pro­gram col­lects phone “metadata” — such as phone num­bers, call times, and call dur­a­tions — but not the con­tents of any com­mu­nic­a­tions.

Last Decem­ber, Judge Richard Le­on of the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia sided with a con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist and ruled that the NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion of phone re­cords is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al.

“I can­not ima­gine a more ‘in­dis­crim­in­ate’ and ‘ar­bit­rary’ in­va­sion than this sys­tem­at­ic and high-tech col­lec­tion and re­ten­tion of per­son­al data on vir­tu­ally every single cit­izen for pur­poses of query­ing and ana­lyz­ing it without pri­or ju­di­cial ap­prov­al,” Judge Le­on wrote.

On Jan. 22, the un­named phone com­pany filed a pe­ti­tion with the FISC, chal­len­ging an NSA or­der it had re­cieved. The com­pany wrote that be­cause of Le­on’s rul­ing, the leg­al­ity of the NSA pro­gram is in ques­tion for the first time. Al­though the com­pany chal­lenged the or­der, it said it would con­tin­ue to com­ply with the NSA un­til the court ruled oth­er­wise.

In the 31-page rul­ing, Judge Rose­mary Colly­er of the FISC dir­ectly re­jec­ted Judge Le­on’s reas­on­ing, call­ing it “un­per­suas­ive.” Cit­ing the 1979 Su­preme Court case Smith v. Mary­land, she con­cluded that people have no Fourth Amend­ment rights over the metadata that they share with phone com­pan­ies.

“The ag­greg­ate scope of the col­lec­tion and over­all size of NSA’s data­base are im­ma­ter­i­al in as­sess­ing wheth­er any per­son’s reas­on­able ex­pect­a­tion of pri­vacy has been vi­ol­ated,” she wrote. She also noted that the FISC im­poses lim­its on how the NSA can search through and handle the phone data after it is col­lec­ted.

The NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion pro­gram is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial rev­el­a­tions from the leaks by Ed­ward Snowden. Pres­id­ent Obama has asked Con­gress to en­act le­gis­la­tion to shift the massive phone data­base out of the NSA’s hands. But for now, the agency is still col­lect­ing re­cords on mil­lions of U.S. calls.

If Con­gress doesn’t end the bulk col­lec­tion pro­gram, it looks like it’s bound for the Su­preme Court.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4906) }}

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
4 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×