Yesterday the Guardian revealed that Verizon has been secretly ordered to share data on all phone calls made between two persons within the United States.
It was also ordered to share data about calls between a foreign entity and a person within the United States.
Calls between two foreign nationals were exempted.
I know what you’re saying, “But, Chad you’re a hypocrite. You supported the NSA’s warrantless wiretap program when Bush was in office.”
Allow me to respond – You are correct I did, and do support the initial NSA Warrantless Wiretap program, but there were some difference between that program, as I understand it, and this court order.
As I understand the original program it was targeted at specific individuals or entities, and one party of the call had to be of foreign origin. This is important because the purpose of the program was to prevent terrorist actions directed by foreign actors against the United States so one party of the call had to be of foreign origin. The NSA doesn’t require a warrant to gather foreign intelligence that is it’s specific mandate. It also had the purpose of gathering specific actionable intelligence, and did so. An attempted attack using a British Airways plane was prevented under the original program.
This program on the other hand is hoovering up data on all the calls made by Verizon customers in the US. So it’s not looking at specific targets. It is also targeting calls between two domestic entities, so it’s not gathering foreign intelligence. Finally it is just gathering call metadata, so it’s not gathering actionable intelligence, it is building social network maps. Now if you were trying to break up a large terrorist cell this would be a valuable tool, but it seems to me that you would go about by identifying a specific target and then building outward from there. This is working backwards – they are building a map of which node is in contact with which node so that when they come across a number they can instantly know who it has been in contact with and place that person under surveillance. As I read the order this is all calls made through Verizon and since Verizon is the nations largest carrier that essentially means every call made in the US.
(I don’t know that is what they are actually doing but that is what I would do with all that data)
That’s the difference specificity vs. just a general big brotherish operation. It’s a fine line I know and as I have said before you have to be very careful about this sort of thing, this is the perfect example of why.
The bit about Verizon not having to disclose data about foreign calls is unfathomable because the NSA is officially a foreign intelligence agency and that would be the data that they would be most entitled to.
I should note that the specificity claim is disputed but I have not seen any evidence of data gathering of this nature under the original program.