Feds Claim Phone Data It Scooped Up Doesn't Include Location Data, And Also [REDACTED]

from the well-that-clears-it-up dept

Soon after the NSA leaks came out, we pointed to a murder trial in which the lawyers for one of the defendants used the news that the NSA was collecting so much metadata on all mobile phone calls to seek discovery on the data concerning the defendant’s mobile phone location information, in the belief that it would present evidence that he was nowhere near the crime. The feds had claimed, initially, that when they subpoenaed his phone carrier during the original case, MetroPCS, that the data had already been destroyed. However, the defendant, Terrance Brown, pointed out that according to the leaked information, the NSA was collecting all such data, so the federal government should already have the data. The court seemed intrigued by this argument, and ordered the government to reply with a very short turnaround.

The government’s response, filed last week, is both interesting and useless. It starts out by claiming that the collected data does not include “cell-site location info,” which was requested:

In his motion, the defendant primarily seeks to compel production of cell site location data, i.e., information about where a cellular telephone was geographically located at the time a call was made (“CSLI”), during July 2010 for Metro PCS cellular telephone number (786) 307-4240, based on public reporting about the collection of call data records under a classified order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). The information acquired under this program, however, did not include CSLI. Thus, the government does not possess the records the defendant seeks.

From there, there’s a lot of [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REDACTED] brackets, so it’s unclear what else the government is saying to the judge. The filing does spend more time explaining why it needs to keep most of this discussion a secret. The claim that the business records request does not include CSLI is interesting, because it has long been assumed that such information was included in the metadata demanded under the FISC order. I’m wondering if the government is carefully parsing its words here, and a slightly different form of location data is included, rather than the specific “CSLI” data.

Later, in the non-redacted part of the filing, the DOJ pulls out the standard excuse from defenders of scooping up business records, that this isn’t really surveillance since there is no expectation of privacy in 3rd party data:

Respectfully, the Government submits that Section 1806(f) is not the appropriate vehicle by which to respond to this Court’s inquiries because the subject in question does not pertain to information obtained by electronic surveillance, as defined by FISA, but rather to records obtained through the “business records” authority of FISA.

Got that? You’re not being spied on when the government hoovers up all that data on every single phone call, because it’s just a “business record” not “electronic surveillance.” Don’t you feel more comfortable now?

Either way, people are pointing out that these kinds of requests, from defendants in federal trials, seeking data from these programs are likely to become a lot more common now that there’s confirmation that such data exists.

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Companies: metropcs, verizon

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Comments on “Feds Claim Phone Data It Scooped Up Doesn't Include Location Data, And Also [REDACTED]”

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30 Comments
CyberKender says:

Re: Re:

Ah, but they have maintained that the NSA is allowed to collect this data. Congress signed off on the Patriot Act, and the FISA court has given it their approval. Since it’s all legitimately collected, you’d think that they’d be willing to share if it could either clear an innocent man or put another dirty criminal in jail…

Anonymous Coward says:

So, even if the NSA found a terrorist in the data they're collecting...

So, the NSA is gathering all this data, but NOT the location of actual people making the phone calls? So that means that even if the NSA’s meta data had conclusive proof that it was a terrorist making phone calls to other terrorists they wouldn’t be able to figure out where the terrorists are in America so they can arrest them?

Somehow I don’t believe that, as it makes a lot of the cell phone data the government gathers rather useless to not include such vital information if you’re tracking the every move of a suspected terrorist.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: So, even if the NSA found a terrorist in the data they're collecting...

According to them:

They are using the data to come to the conclusion that, yes, you called a known terrorist 3 years ago. Then, they would get a warrant to track you in real-time which would include your current location and they could arrest you. (Your current location 3 years ago isn’t really all that useful when trying to arrest people if you can get where they are today or yesterday.)

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So, even if the NSA found a terrorist in the data they're collecting...

In God We Trust – All Others We Monitor.” all-around unofficial US INTEL motto in general I think.

Ya’ll dint think that was a joke didja?

The point of this whole exercise is that the Department of Defense is unleashed within our borders. Not only is that a no-no it’s flat out bat shit crazy.

Our military, in case you were unaware, is a well oiled killing and control machine. They follow orders quite well. The controls that were in place to prevent that machine from operating on its own soil have been chipped away at. That trend must be reversed.

THERE IS NO FUCKING WAR ON TERRORISM. Ass munchers. Just a facade for ‘the hunt for evil doers’ and your monies – not too mention a little strategic awareness planning.

Anonymous Coward says:

“On Sunday, officials said that though the NSA is authorized to collect “geolocational” information that can pinpoint the location of callers, it chooses not to.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323836504578549872755892406.html?mod=rss_Technology

(tinfoil hat) we choose not to today, but we did yesterday and will again tomorrow.

the problem isn’t that they do, it’s that they can.

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

Why warehouse the data?

Yet another thing has been bothering me about the NSA warehousing the data. If an NSA OFFICIAL, not just an agent, walks over to a database administrator and asks for data, what exactly is there to stop him? We’ve already seen a network admin in California get jailtime for refusing to hand out passwords. What would they get for refusing to disclose data to a government official?
I’m guessing that is the REAL reason to store the data on-premeses. No one can rationally buy that a 24-48 hour delay is going to negatively affect an investigation.

Edmund M says:

In his motion, the defendant primarily seeks to compel production of cell site location data, i.e., information about where a cellular telephone was geographically located at the time a call was made (“CSLI”), during July 2010 for Metro PCS cellular telephone number (786) 307-4240, based on public reporting about the collection of call data records under a classified order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). The information acquired under this program, however, did not include CSLI. Thus, the government does not possess the records the defendant seeks.

And what if, say, they were collecting data on which cell towers a phone was using, without looking for the location of the phone itself – until they want to, of course? It seems to be possible with the above wording.

horse with no name says:

complaining about censorship

Complaining about censorship and redacted documents is pretty rich coming from Techdirt right now, considering what you do with every one of my posts.

Each post is “held for moderation” and not added to the discussion until long after the thread is no longer viable – if the post is added at all. By my count, 75% of my posts never make it to the site.

Censorship, plain and simple.

Why, oh why, are you scared of people who don’t agree with you?

anon says:

Specifically CLSI?

You reveal your location every few seconds when your phone is on. If they collect this ping info (snapshot the phone company’s database of which tower you are on)do they really need to record exact location of call? Ask for too precise information, you get a simple “sorry, we don’t have THAT.”

Although, this is odd because if you are hoovering data, why would you skip such obviously useful and available data? Or is such data something that needs to be specifically requested if you, for example, make a 911 call? Otherwise, all they have is a cell tower?

There you go – for the tinfoil afficionados, they could chug their database finding correlations between phones. “85% of the time,phone A is with phone B”. Never mind it’s because the guy lives in the apartment above yours. But they can still correlate how often cells that call each other are geographically in the same tower service; gives you a good lead to who is in his cell. (The sleeper type, not the phone cell)

Anonymous Coward says:

NSA phone records won't help, bank robbery suspect concedes

?NSA phone records won’t help, bank robbery suspect concedes?, by Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel, June 24, 2013

The defense for a Miami man accused of taking part in a number of attempted bank robberies in Broward County has conceded that any cellphone records kept by the National Security Agency ? under a program that secretly retained millions of phone records ? would not help him to prove his innocence.?.?.?.

The article goes on to say that the defense has withdrawn their request for the NSA records.

Loki says:

I’m wondering if the government is carefully parsing its words here,

Given the dozens, if not hundreds, of examples already cited of the government carefully parsing their words and selectively defining their terms in the past few weeks/months, I think they have set a strong enough precedent that we don’t need to wonder at this point. I automatically assume they do so and look for it when they speak now.

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