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.