Eric Holder Admits That, If It Wanted, NSA Could Collect Internet Searches & Emails Just Like Phone Metadata

from the no-constitutional-issue-at-all dept

During a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning oversight, Rep. Zoe Lofgren decided to quiz Attorney General Eric Holder about the federal government's surveillance efforts, starting off with a rather simple question. She notes that the bulk phone record collection program is considered to be legal by its supporters, based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows for the collection of "business records." So, she wonders, is there any legal distinction between phone records and, say, internet searches or emails? In other words, does the DOJ believe that it would be perfectly legal for the US government to scoop up all your search records and emails without a warrant? Holder clearly does not want to answer the question, and first tries to answer a different question, concerning the bulk phone records program, and how the administration is supposedly committed to ending it. But eventually he's forced to admit that there's no legal distinction:
This is important. As you may recall, some of the attempts to deal with the phone record collection, including President Obama's, focus only on ending the specific phone record collection program, not the underlying law (or the interpretation of that law). This isn't to say that there are ongoing programs to do bulk warrantless collection of those other types of information, but it is worth recognizing that the government believes there would be no Constitutional issue if it decided to set up such a program.

All along, this has been the problem with Section 215. When it first was discussed, it was often called the "library" provision, as the example that people talked about was using Section 215 to collect the records of what books someone checked out of the library. However, as the phone collection program showed, it's been turned into something much, much broader. Fixing this interpretation is going to take a lot more than just ending one program. It requires changing what is allowed by Section 215.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:12am

    If It Wanted, NSA Could Collect Internet Searches & Emails Just Like Phone Metadata

    So I would assume that means they ARE collecting internet searches and emails - because we can clearly see by now that they want to collect everything they possibly can.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:13am

    Considering, that so far anytime it got revealed they could potentially grab some data, it turned out they DO grab that data, It is fair to assume that they do collect emails and search records.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    TasMot (profile), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:25am

    Is there any way to collect all that hot air to heat my house?

    Congress seems to be willing to spend countless (at least I'd rather they not spend more of my tax money to count how much it is costing) hours and millions of dollars to keep finding out that these "terrorist" laws are being used to conduct surveillance on EVERYBODY.
    Can anybody just tell Congress to shut up, stop holding meetings and repeal these bad laws or pass new ones to put a stop to it.
    Can we tell them to create a specific, concrete, court usable test that everyone understands to define a terrorist activity and then make that illegal.
    That will stop the "talk only" terrorist traps the FBI seems so fond of spewing PR about.
    It will stop whistleblowers from being terrorists.
    It will stop a lot of the "made up" criminals law enforcement seems fond of catching.
    AND, it will force the NSA to stop the programs that everybody outside of the NSA doesn't seem to want.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Namel3ss (profile), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:26am

    Let's start a pool on how long it'll be before Ed Snowden's leaked documents shows that, in fact, the NSA already collects this stuff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Vic, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:27am

    Re:

    That was exactly my first thought after reading this one...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    The pattern so far is that once they deny doing something nefarious, the document showing they're lying comes out a couple of days later. I expect that this pattern will continue.

    I have to say, this is a brilliant strategy. MUCH better than a blanket document dump, as this is a constant reminder as to how much we can trust the NSA et al.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:36am

    "if"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 11:45am

    Re:

    I would assume that the Atorney General of the United States would, y'know, stand up for the rule of law.

    Moral cowardice at its finest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Is there any way to collect all that hot air to heat my house?

    The only thing that's going to stop, even for a little bit, the NSA from continuing their activities, whether they're considered legal or not, is if someone starts dragging the higher-ups responsible for all this mess to court, prosecutes them, and throws them in prison.

    So far, with absolutely none of that happening, they have no incentive not to continue on, business as usual, because hey, it's not like they face anything more severe than an angry public and blustery, yet ultimately empty threats by a few politicians to 'do something', so why should they care whether or not what they're doing is legal or not?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re:

    I would assume that the Atorney General of the United States would, y'know, stand up for the rule of law.


    Eric has too many ghosts in the closet. The last thing he wants is standing up for the law as that means he would have to respond to the request for a special investigation into Fast and Furious and his part in it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    alternatives(), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Re:

    My guess on this one is the Rep. knew the answer to the question before it was asked. If the Rep. asks/gives a chance to clarify or retract then its time to set up the popcorn and watch the fun.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 12:55pm

    Russ Was Right

    This is the exact thing a certain R Feingold had warned could happen back in 2001

    Too bad we ignored him

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 1:20pm

    >Implying they don't fucking do this already.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Shmerl, Apr 9th, 2014 @ 1:21pm

    It's not an assumption

    They are collecting as much internet traffic as they can: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A
    May be targeting e-mails through breaking into providers directly is something else, but wiretapping Internet backbone is going for years already.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anon E. Mous (profile), Apr 9th, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    I agree. The Government has been playing word games in not saying we didn't and not saying we did.

    With all that has transpired from the Snowden leaks I assume that they do this already, I certainly wouldn't believe anything the government has to say considering the way they have let the NSA run amok.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Loki, Apr 10th, 2014 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re:

    He is standing up for the rule of law. In their fantasy world the law says this is all OK and legal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Loki, Apr 10th, 2014 @ 11:10am

    Re:

    Agreed. If he says there isn't any legal distinction (as far as they are concerned) you can bet the bank they are doing it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Enis, Apr 10th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    Neeg

    Neeg

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    richard40 (profile), Apr 10th, 2014 @ 2:27pm

    Why should we worry. We all know Holder is a man of enormous integrity and would never abuse this power for partisan gain, right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Eric, Apr 12th, 2014 @ 8:53pm

    Government to read emails

    Well, they can read this. Ho Chi Minh is a hero, because he and the North Vietnamese folks united a country where it used to be North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Sadly, France and the United States learned a lesson the hard way. They should have stayed out of the Vietnamese conflict and would have saved thousands of soldier lives (Vietnamese, French and Americans).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Apr 14th, 2014 @ 3:50am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think he thinks he's Judge Dredd, and therefore IS the law.

    That makes sense of any claim he makes to respect the rule of law - he means, "The rule of Holder."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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