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.

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

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33 Comments
slave 74882683 (user link) says:

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.

dumbOrFree (profile) says:

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

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

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…

Vince says:

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.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

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?

Slave 2406 Smith W. says:

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

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