The NSA's Lockbox Has No Lock
from the like-that-won't-be-abused? dept
Except... what they conveniently left out, is that the court doesn't review any of this. It appears that it probably set some very basic rules up front when it gave the okay on collecting the data, which no one else gets to know about, and no one carefully checks up on the NSA later to see if they really follow any of those rules. What the claims most certainly do not mean, is that the NSA needs to get a court order to search the database. Senator Dianne Feinstein admitted as much directly:
Q: Is a court order necessary to query the metadata database?And yet, as the article notes, most of the defenders of the program strongly imply otherwise, highlighting the "court-approved" process that people need to go through to query the database. But if there's no real oversight, and no court reviewing each query, then, as Saletan points out, there is no lockbox.
Feinstein: Is a court order necessary to query—
Q: The metadata database under 215. An individual court order for each query.
Feinstein: A court order—well, I don't know what you mean by a query. A court order—
Q: To search the database.
Feinstein: To search the database, you have to have reasonable, articulable cause—
Q: Certified by a judge?
Feinstein: —to believe that that individual is connected to a terrorist group. You cannot—
Q: But does that have to be determined by a judge?
Feinstein: Could I answer? You may not like it, but I'll answer. Then you can query the numbers. The only numbers you have—there's no content. You have the name and the number called, whether it's one number or two numbers. That's all you have. Then you can get the numbers. If you want to collect content, then you get a court order.
Q: So you don't need a court order for the query itself.
Feinstein: That's my understanding.
There's no lock on the lockbox.If there's no public standard, and no official oversight or review process, then the probability that the database is being abused approaches one very, very quickly.
That hasn't stopped current and former government officials from repeating the lockbox line. Yesterday Rogers used it again on Face the Nation. Dick Cheney, appearing on Fox News Sunday, backed him up. On Meet the Press, Michael Hayden, the guy who ran the NSA when it began collecting phone records, assured Rep. Bobby Scott, (D-Va.,) "The only way you can access the metadata is through a terrorist predicate." When Scott asked, "Where is that written?" Hayden replied: "It's in the court order." Really? Where's the court order? When is it applied, and how?
If the court isn't screening data requests, that leaves two possibilities. One is that nobody's screening them. The other is that some other, unknown entity is doing it in a way that nobody has explained. Either way, the answers we're getting are unacceptable. They betray privacy, public trust, and national security.