Intelligence Chief To Wyden: It Would Be Difficult To Reveal What You Want Us To Reveal Because We Don't Want To Reveal It

from the got-it dept

We've been covering Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall's attempts to get folks working in national intelligence to explain their secret interpretation of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act. It hasn't been too difficult to piece together the implication that the government has interpreted the already controversial Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to allow it to gather geolocation data of pretty much anyone in the US from their mobile phone provider without a warrant or any other oversight. If you're unfamiliar with it, Section 215 was the part of the PATRIOT Act that allowed the feds to demand "any tangible thing (including books, records, papers, documents and other items)," from an organization, just as long as the records are being asked for "in connection with" a terrorism investigation.

A while back, there was an attempt to change the language of the law to make it specific that the collection of such records had to actually be about a terror subject, rather than the much broader initial definition (how hard is it to claim that collecting any data is "in connection with" a terrorism investigation these days?) Combined with a few other novel legal theories, and some convoluted loophole finding, it appears likely that the feds believe they can get pretty much realtime info on almost anyone without any warrant, which allows them to do all sorts of things that seem to go way beyond what people would normally think of as a "reasonable" search.

Of course, the feds don't want to admit that this is how they're (ab)using the PATRIOT Act. However, Senator Wyden has been pretty insistent in asking intelligence officials about the federal government's authority to collect geolocation info. He recently asked this question specifically to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper... who has provided a display in tap dancing as an answer. You can see the full letter from Clapper below, but the key point:
The questions you pose on geolocational information are difficult to answer in an unclassified letter. It is our understanding, based on a conversation with your staff, that you are most interested in learning about the government's authority to collect cell phone mobility data of American citizens in the United States for intelligence purposes. As you acknowledge, the government has some authority to collect cell phone mobility data under appropriate circumstances but there have been a diverse set of rulings concerning the quantum of evidence and the procedures required to obtain such information. We will work closely with the relevant agencies to define the government's view of the full contours of this authority and will get back to you.
In other words, we can't tell you what you want to know because that would look bad. Still, this answer definitely seems to further confirm Julian Sanchez's original speculation on what was going on here. In that report, he discussed the government's highly questionable "hybrid theory," of picking and choosing tiny pieces of different statutes, to put together the fake authority to get location info without a warrant. As Sanchez noted at the time, "many courts have been skeptical of this theory and rejected it--but at least some have gone along with this clever bit of legal origami..."

That certainly sounds like the "diverse set of rulings," mentioned in the letter.

The rest of the letter is full of similar tap dancing, explaining the rather plain interpretation of what the laws seem to say (i.e., they're not supposed to track Americans in the US), but any time it gets close to actually revealing the "secret" interpretations or the results of those interpretations, the letter basically says "that's not possible." For example, there's this:
While it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed...
In other words, yeah, we're spying on so many people we can't even count 'em all.

The letter, of course, points out repeatedly that intelligence agencies report the answers to what Wyden is asking in classified briefings. In other words, they're saying "hey, look, we already provided the answers to your questions in secret, and you know the answers and we know you know the answers, and we sure as hell don't want the public to know the answers." When Senator Wyden brought this issue up a couple months ago, he noted that if the public knew these answers, it would make them "angry." It seems that the intelligence folks don't want the public angry... but sure as hell don't want to give up their broad and questionable interpretation of the PATRIOT Act.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:01am

    He's a fucking Senator. IF he is not permitted to see this, then why should the Feds be able to?

     

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  2.  
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    slave 74882683, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Work

    Clearly you haven't watched enough state controlled media(or is it the media who controls the state?) if you are still having such trecherous thoughts.

    Obviously if the people knew how much they were spied on they wouldn't like it, but then again government isn't for the people anymore, fellows, its for the greater good, and of course the people don't know whats best for them, so they have to do it behind the peoples back so they don't realize how much they are being saved from dangerous thoughts.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:04am

    Re:

    haha oh eejit, the senators are just supposed to put on the bread and circuses that keep us amused while the fed does all the work of screwing us over.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:16am

    This exchange between Wyden and Intelligence is on course for Intelligence to reply to the question of why they won't reveal this publicly in the following manner:

    "Because fuck you, that's why."

    I can't wait for that one...

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:26am

    Re:

    He is permitted to see it. It's the public that is not. As this is an unclassified letter (open to the public), they cannot supply the answer there. It's a matter of political - erm, I mean national - security.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:27am

    Re:

    The questions you pose on geolocational information are difficult to answer in an unclassified letter

    I believe this is leagaleese for "Go fuck yaself"

     

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  7.  
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    DCX2, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re:

    You don't even need legalese, Cheney said that exact phrase to Sen. Leahy...on the Senate floor, no less.

     

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  8.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:41am

    I'm amazed and amused that this Patriot Act still lives and it's even discussed if an interpretation of whatever section is broad or not. The entire thing is a complete an utter murder of the US Constitution.

     

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  9.  
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    A Guy, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:44am

    Where's the news coverage?

    When are "mainstream" media sources going to pick this up? It seems like it has Pulitzer written all over it if people can get a definitive answer on the subject, or at least shine some light on the issue.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re: Re:

    well leahy deserves it, hes a fully bought puppet of the riaa and disney(no jokes look it up)

     

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  11.  
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    dumbOrFree (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:52am

    If you'd please pay attention

    The U.S. "government" is scraping and "reviewing" ALL of its citizens communications wherever and whenever they can find them.. ALL OF IT. An act that in and of itself renders their purpose as America's governing body illegitimate as it pertains to the founding documents.

    There can be no such thing as a PATRIOT ACT. You can not legislate away pieces of our rights, you can not democratically vote folks in that vote away our rights. Democracy does not equal freedom.
    /rant

     

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  12.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Re: Where's the news coverage?

    Bringing attention to this would violate the practice of maintaining a "shadow puppet theatre" where only the stupid nonsense and good distractions are given attention--real news is NOT allowed to be shown on mainstream US "News" outlets.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: Where's the news coverage?

    i wish we had the collective stones to go riot in the streets like the good old days

     

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  14.  
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    Eileen (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:01pm

    Re: If you'd please pay attention

    True.

    Yet, here we are.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:02pm

    There has to be a better way

    I can't imagine all that geolocation data is very useful to them in the format they are collecting it. I think they should institute some kind of time card program for all U.S. citizens. People should be required to have a set weekly schedule and "check in" every couple of hours to update their activities relative to the plan. Of course you would be able to update your plan if things change, but this would allow for record of everyone’s actions.

    It would be easy to catch the criminals because you would either have data pinning them to the crime you wanted to arrest them for, or you could tell that they were not appropriately updating their time card. The geolocation data from peoples phones (even if the subject does not have a phone), public and private cameras that can be hooked up to the network and Wi-Fi could help with authentication of time cards.

    The closer you stick to your plan and the more you do “approved actions,” the cheaper you could get things like insurance and government services. Think of all the money we could save on law enforcement, political grandstanding and national security.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Re:

    Actually, the leagaleese for "Go fuck yaself" is

    Please refer to arkell v. pressdram.

     

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  17.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    But it's Cheney...

    Pot, kettle...

     

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  18.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:19pm

    Not just US news

    Lobo, it isn't just the US that has this problem... it is just as rampant in every country. At least in China they are upfront when the government says 'don't publish stories that make us look bad.' (I'm not saying that is what I actually want it to be... just an example that sits at the top of the pile)

    I wish there truly was a 'free' press. I also wish it would be a responsible one. The problem is the two often get into fights over drinks...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:31pm

    Re: There has to be a better way

    Facebook already does most of that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 12:37pm

    Re:

    That sounds like Socialist/Communist talk...comrade.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    gorehound (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Leahy is a piece of shit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Re: There has to be a better way

    Then make Facebook mandatory (including six “check ins” per day and three of them with photo evidence) and make it illegal to put false information on a profile (unless it is a government sponsored profile).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I fear this joke is understood by fewer and fewer.

    It still makes me chuckle, though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 1:43pm

    Government = Shit

    Who put them there? Gonna buy lots and lots of whiskey in the near future. And enough narcotics to mix with them so when the end is coming, I won't have to witness it. FTW!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Jordan (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 2:03pm

    Since Sen. Wyden is on the finance committee as well it may be time for an "oops your budget is now zero" moment.

     

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  26.  
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    deane (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 2:03pm

    patriot act = when citizens are considered criminals BEFORE they commit any crime. thanks congress and senate and a dishonest president! >.

     

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  27.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, BIG OLE GRIN!!

     

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  28.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: There has to be a better way

    I realize (hope?) you're being sarcastic, but my response to that statement is still a resounding 'FUCK YOU'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Ron Rezendes (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 4:13pm

    Re:

    ...and the current President is not to be relieved of responsibility either!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 8:36pm

    Re:

    Bad legislation is never removed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Vince, Jul 28th, 2011 @ 9:37pm

    So, what's the problem?

    Listen, I'm not saying the Government should take control over every aspect of my life but seriously, what's the problem if the Feds want to keep tabs on a suspected bad guy and his whereabouts? If you're not doing something you shouldn't be doing, then who cares who knows where you are? Maybe we'd all think differently if (God forbid) these anti-America freaks actually figure out a way to detonate a nuclear weapon on our soil.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Slave 2406 Smith W., Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:17pm

    Please spy on me

    Thank You for spying on us ALL the time. I really do appreciate, the fact, that now, you pass laws NO ONE can read, and NO ONE can know how you are twisting them. Sounds like the perfect crime.....uh oh...now I sound like a CRAZY conspiracy nut. Im not though...Im a realist. I LOVE BEING A SLAVE..I dont have to think about ANYTHING.They already have thought of EVERYTHING. So, sit back,relax, and enjoy the ride to hell fellow suckers.Everything will be fine cause now

    BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING and has been for TEN YEARS

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 28th, 2011 @ 11:24pm

    Re: So, what's the problem?

    Listen, I'm not saying the Government should take control over every aspect of my life but seriously, what's the problem if the Feds want to keep tabs on a suspected bad guy and his whereabouts?

    The problem is that they're not just keeping tabs on suspected bad guys. They appear to be keeping tabs on everyone, in violation of the Constitution.

    If you're not doing something you shouldn't be doing, then who cares who knows where you are?

    Really?!? You're going to trot out that old line?

    Maybe we'd all think differently if (God forbid) these anti-America freaks actually figure out a way to detonate a nuclear weapon on our soil

    So you're okay with giving up the key freedoms of America in order to save what, exactly?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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