DOJ Insists That There Is No Proof Verizon Wireless Shared Phone Data With NSA

from the look-over-there! dept

Oh boy. Last month, as you may recall, the DC circuit appeals court struck down a lower court ruling that found the NSA’s phone records collection program (under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act) unconstitutional. The ruling was based on something of a technicality. The Snowden documents revealed that Verizon Business Services was participating in the program and sharing its phone records, but the plaintiff in the case, Larry Klayman, was a customer of Verizon Wireless, which is not the same entity. Thus, the court decided, Klayman had no standing since he could not prove that Verizon Wireless had participated in the program and handed his phone records over to the NSA. Of course, as many pointed out at the time, while it was true when the case was filed that it was only known that Verizon Business Services participated in the program, since then it’s become clear that (as everyone suspected anyway) that Verizon Wireless participated as well.

This detail actually came out just a few weeks before the DC circuit ruling, in a NY Times story based on documents it obtained via a FOIA request and lawsuit. The article was officially about US officials using the phone records program to target Iran, but as Marcy Wheeler pointed out at the time, that fact wasn’t really new or surprising. The really new thing, buried in the documents, was that Verizon Wireless participated in the phone records program. You see, as part of that data dump (which was forced upon the government by the FOIA lawsuit), there’s a letter sent to Judge John Bates on the FISA Court, telling him about “a compliance incident.” And in that letter, it’s made clear that the program includes Verizon Wireless among others:

So, this should be helpful, right? Well, not according to the DOJ. In a filing in another lawsuit, filed by Anna Smith in the 9th Circuit, the DOJ is insisting that what you see in that FOIA release is not proof at all and barely worth discussing. The DOJ’s tap dancing is fairly impressive:

Plaintiff?s request for judicial notice is improper. Whether Verizon Wireless has participated in the Section 215 bulk telephony-metadata program is not ?an adjudicative fact,? within the meaning of the rule plaintiffs invoke…. An adjudicative fact is one that ?can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned,? id., such as when the document was filed…. It is not appropriate to take judicial notice of disputed factual matters.

Huh. So is the DOJ really asserting that a document the government itself released that says Verizon Wireless was a part of the program is a disputed fact? Yes. Yes, it is.

Plaintiff asserts… that the document she relies on was released by the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But plaintiff does not contend that this document was declassified, and in fact the government has not confirmed the authenticity of the document plaintiff has produced or of any facts plaintiff purports to infer from it. The identities of the providers who have participated in the Section 215 bulk-telephony metadata program, apart from the fact that Verizon Business Network Services (VBNS) participated for a time in 2013, remain classified…. The extent to which any other carrier has participated in a government intelligence-gathering program could not be deduced merely from the caption of any purported legal filing, especially one that does not specify the scope of a proceeding, or state explicitly the nature of the carrier?s involvement in a particular matter being addressed.

Wow. So the government released this document (following a FOIA lawsuit) and now the government claims that the fact that Verizon Wireless is listed in there is still a classified bit of information, and no one (mainly the court) should read anything more into it. As the ACLU told Politico in response to this:

“The secrecy here is entirely a fiction. The purpose of it is to insulate the government’s surveillance activities from judicial review,” the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer said. “We now live in a kind of bizarre world where their position is that [the letter disclosed to the Times] doesn’t count and that the term ‘official disclosure’ is drawn so narrowly that it is excludes their own affirmative disclosure on their own letterhead. … It?s a fiction that bears no relation to reality and, at a certain point, I think — I hope — courts aren’t going to entertain that fiction anymore.”

We shall see.

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Comments on “DOJ Insists That There Is No Proof Verizon Wireless Shared Phone Data With NSA”

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Michael (profile) says:

the document she relies on was released by the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But plaintiff does not contend that this document was declassified, and in fact the government has not confirmed the authenticity of the document

Wow – it sounds like someone released classified information. They really should be prosecuted for treason.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Either that, or someone released disinformation in response to a FOIA request/lawsuit.

I’ve always wondered what’s stopping the government from just fabricating documents in response to these things… and wasting a lot of black ink to make us think we’re actually on to something. I would hope there’s enough honest souls in there that someone would brave the treason/espionage charges and say something. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen to the government for lying to the public? They have to spend taxpayer dollars to pay off a fine?

Anonymous Coward says:

Business names and entities

…Verizon Business Services…Verizon Wireless, which is not the same…

Many businesses in the US have been doing this for some time because of “sue happy” lawyers and clients. I remember a company’s chapter 11 bankruptcy filing being publicly posted; the number of debtor companies listed was mind boggling. This company had only 300 business locations in 4 states with 8 different business activities divided into over 50 (fifty) different business entities. The administrative costs alone for those entities must be eating away at their profits.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Your Standing in It

I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the concept of “standing”. It seems as though the sole purpose of the concept is to help the government avoid justice by keeping secret things secret.

The method is for the gov’t to not reveal that the plaintiff actually does have standing, because that’s classified information, and as such, the plaintiff cannot sue in a way that establishes their standing.

Basically, I could sue saying “You spied on me, and I intend to prove it in court.” and they would respond with “Prove it first, or we don’t go to court.”

Just as “parlay”, a pox on the pirate that first invented “standing”!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Pick one


A) The document they released thanks to the FOIA request is fraudulent, in which case I’m pretty sure they can be sued for it, as if agencies can just make stuff up that entirely defeats the purpose behind FOIA laws.


B) The document they released thanks to the FOIA request is accurate, in which case the information within it can be use in court.

Those are the only two options.

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