Judge In FBI Case Was Forced To Redact His Mocking Of FBI's Ridiculous Arguments

from the now-revealed dept

We’ve already discussed how Nicholas Merrill can finally reveal the ridiculous and almost certainly unconstitutional National Security Letter (NSL) he received 11 years ago while operating a small ISP, Calyx Internet Access. However, with that revelation also came the unredacted version of the judge’s ruling back in October. When we wrote about the October ruling we had mocked many of the obviously ridiculous redactions — including this somewhat iconic redacted footnote:

Thanks to the unredacted decision’s release, we can now see what exactly was redacted and it was mostly judge Victor Marrero totally mocking the DOJ’s ridiculous arguments. Here’s that footnote, by the way:
If you can’t read it, it says:

The Court notes that the Leahy Letter does not reveal the “180 day” time period in which the FBI sought order and shipping information from Merrill. The Perdue Declaration argues that if this 180-day period is revealed, then “potential terrorists” could manipulate orders to avoid having those orders fall within the 180 day period…. The Court is not persuaded. A “potential terrorist” does not know when, if ever, the FBI will issue a related NSL. The 180-day period clearly relates to the date Merill received the NSL, and it is hard to imagine any person outside of the FBI having the knowledge about when an NSL might be issued, and changing their behavior as a result.

Many of the other redactions just involve hiding what kind of information is currently being redacted, even as the judge wondered why such information was being redacted. For example, we originally highlighted this section:

And in the unredacted portion, we see that basically the government insisted on redacting the fact that the NSL asked for “subscriber day/evening telephone numbers” and the judge can’t figure out why the FBI thinks this needs to be secret.
Elsewhere, the redactions get even more direct in hiding the judge totally mocking the DOJ’s arguments. Take this section for example:
We now see it was the judge mocking the ridiculousness of these redactions:
If you can’t see that, it’s the judge pointing out the ridiculousness of the FBI already allowing the public to know it can collect records of an “address” and a “telephone number” but not “addresses” and “telephone numbers” (i.e., the plural versions). As the judge noted, but was originally redacted:

… a potential target of an investigation, even a dim-witted one, would almost certainly be able to determine, simply by running through the alphabet, that “telephone number█” could only be “telephone numbers.” Redactions that defy common sense — such as concealing a single letter at the end of a word — diminish the force of the Government’s claim to “good reason” to keep information under seal, and undermine its argument that disclosures of the currently-redacted information in the Attachment can be linked to a substantial risk of an enumerated harm.

The judge also mocks the ridiculous fact that because the FBI is no longer using NSLs to obtain cell-tower location info, that because it might at some point in the future use it, such info should be redacted:

Here’s the unredacted version:
Later in the document, the judge was even forced to redact the phrase “sophisticated foreign adversaries” in noting that such people would already know that the FBI could collect such information.

It was pretty clear back in October the redactions were ridiculous (as was the whole gag order in the first place), and now it’s been confirmed.

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Companies: calyx internet access

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Comments on “Judge In FBI Case Was Forced To Redact His Mocking Of FBI's Ridiculous Arguments”

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Anonymous Coward says:


On p.26 of the unredacted opinion, Judge Marrero makes a parenthetical statement about a “radius log”:

(i.e., “radius log” information, cell-tower based phone tracking information)

This parenthetical comment has actually attracted a small bit of attention elsewhere, with some commenters taking Judge Marrero’s explanation of a “radius log” at face value, and other commenters feeling confident that this is a MESSED-UP reference to the well-known “Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS)”, and RADIUS’s equally well-known logging.

Do you think that Judge Marrero understood whatever technical explanation he may have received regarding a “radius log” ?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

A pleasure doing business

We wish to redact the fact that our redactions support all contentions that we are unmitigated a–holes operating in an environment where we are allowed (absolutely) to express our a–holedness to the nth degree (proudly) and not admit it to anyone we don’t want to, at least until some judge gets all uppity and gets in our way. We have ways to deal with the likes of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This can't be right

Name address and phone # ???

uh… isn’t that called the “white pages” and freely available pretty much everywhere???

Not exactly. There are unlisted numbers and also “unofficially unlisted” numbers (where you ask the phone company to list under an alternate name, to avoid paying the unlisted number fee). And phonebooks don’t list an evening number for each person; it’s not clear why a phone company would have it, but maybe they store the number a customer calls from when setting up or changing an account. It’s still ridiculous that the government was fighting for redaction.

sigalrm (profile) says:

A Redactor with a conscience?

Looking at the redactions in this case, I have to wonder if whoever was doing the job purposefully botched it in order to intentionally weaken the governments arguments in court.

While it’s tempting to dismiss actions like this as “government stupidity”, you don’t get to a position of responsibility where you’re entrusted with redacting documents if you’re not at least a little intelligent. You’re looking at someone who’s at least a little bit smart in terms of legal requirements and who probably has some operational experience in the area as well.

Esteban says:

Re: A Redactor with a conscience?

No, the government doesn’t need any help to look dumb, stupid, etc. And yes, Virginia, the smartest people in the government don’t always rise to the top. Fact is the government shot themselves in the foot. So, try as you may to blame someone else, it ain’t so. The blame is their own.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: A Redactor with a conscience?

Looking at the redactions in this case, I have to wonder if whoever was doing the job purposefully botched it in order to intentionally weaken the governments arguments in court.

I have to wonder if they’re just tying up or filling the queue with as much crap as they can find to slow the process down to the speed of molasses in Antarctica. With shit like this tying up the courts, we can just give up on this vector. It’s a pointless exercise in time and resource wasting.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: A Redactor with a conscience?

It is indeed altogether possible…. and hopefully will become more and more the case.

I think what you’re referring to will eventually become common, as people start to view the whistleblower as the people’s hero against the institutional and corporate tyranny…. commonly called fascism. Snowden has laid a very good road upon which that kind of public hero can evolve.

Once started upon the road to Fascist Empire, there is no turning back for government because of the constantly increasing accumulation of criminal activities that need to be undertaken to achieve the goal of Empire.

To stop is to be caught with their myriad hands in all of the cookie jars.

Instead, the process of fear mongering via Drug War, Terror War, Cyber War, Etc. War and its accompanying pseudo-free-press scare stories has to escalate exponentially, mainly to keep the public off balance and under constant pressure and to prevent the public from having enough time to realize and analyze the flaws in the “Official Story” accompanying each pseudo-crisis and false flag operation.

I think we will be seeing more and more hidden informants and secret whistleblowers as time goes by and the government’s escalating assault on freedom and “rights” becomes obviously its only real goal.

I am absolutely certain that if I were in a position of trust in one of the federal agencies today, and a young man, I would definitely be looking into ways and means of defeating the monster from within.

Anonymous Coward says:

“a potential target of an investigation, even a dim-witted one, would almost certainly be able to determine, simply by running through the alphabet, that ‘telephone number█’ could only be ‘telephone numbers.'”

Oh thank goodness! The government hasn’t gotten around to asking companies for my telephone numbert. They’ll never catch me now!

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