Did A DOJ Official Just Try To Distance The Agency From The NSA's Bulk Records Collection Program?

from the prelude-to-the-ugliest-of-divorces? dept

A very interesting statement was made by an unnamed DOJ official while defending the US Marshals' flying cell tower spoofers. It's something I didn't catch the first time through, but something that should be examined more closely.
A Justice Department official on Friday refused to confirm or deny the existence of such a program, because doing so would allow criminals to better evade law enforcement. But the official said it would be “utterly false’’ to conflate the law-enforcement program with the collection of bulk telephone records by the National Security Agency, a controversial program already being challenged in the courts and by some members of Congress.
We need to ask ourselves (since we obviously can't ask the anonymous official) why he/she felt the need to point out that the program shouldn't be "conflated" with the NSA's bulk telephone records collections.

When Section 215's constitutionality is challenged in court, it's DOJ lawyers that provide the counterarguments. The DOJ also pens the "white papers" that provide the legal rationalizations for the NSA's collection programs. It's the DOJ that shelters the identities of telecommunication companies "participating" in the bulk records collection.

Now, when asked to defend another secret program, a DOJ official makes it very clear that this program (airborne IMSI catchers) is not like the Section 215 program. But how is it different? And why would this official feel the need to clearly differentiate between the two?

One possibility is that the DOJ views the US Marshals' program as "targeted," whereas the NSA's program is admittedly (or at least, undeniably -- thanks to leaks) untargeted. This would be a perfectly good point to make... except that it implies that there's something wrong with the Section 215 program.

The DOJ shifts to defense mode after an unexpected leak and instinctively (or inadvertently) distances itself from a rather toxic NSA program. To state that the US Marshals' surveillance is different than the bulk records collection is to damn by comparison. It wants the public to believe the US Marshals' program isn't just indiscriminately hoovering up cell phone numbers, even though the DOJ -- in its courtroom defenses and white papers -- believes indiscriminate, untargeted collections are not only acceptable, but Constitutional. This official's statement comes across as a strident "Hey, at least it's not the Section 215 program!"

Was this just a flustered misstatement by a DOJ official? Or is the DOJ looking to distance itself from the NSA's most visible and most discussed (but certainly not its most controversial) program? It seems to be the only program the NSA is willing to cede ground on.

If so, we may see more of this in the future. But for now, it appears that even some DOJ officials find the untargeted bulk records collection to be at least a little bit objectionable.
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Filed Under: bulk records, doj, nsa, surveillance


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  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 26 Nov 2014 @ 12:08pm

    Oh that's easy.

    The NSA's bulk collection program is largely unpopular, and he wants to make sure that we know the difference between a Mallard and a Muscovy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2014 @ 12:24pm

    The DOJ may be trying to downplay the fact that cell tower spoofers flying through the air. Causes everyone within the transceiver's 10+ mile broadcast range to connect to the airplane because cellphones think it's a legitimate cell tower.

    Another thing worth mentioning is radio wave transmitting distance is limited by the curvature of the earths surface. That's why cell towers and TV antennas are mounted high up in the air.

    Airplanes and drones travel at a much higher altitude than cell towers. Meaning they can intercept and transmit radio waves over a much greater distance than 10 miles.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Spokesperson: "But the official said it would be “utterly false’’ to conflate the law-enforcement program with the collection of bulk telephone records by the National Security Agency, a controversial program already being challenged in the courts and by some members of Congress."

    Techdirt: "We need to ask ourselves (since we obviously can't ask the anonymous official) why he/she felt the need to point out that the program shouldn't be "conflated" with the NSA's bulk telephone records collections."

    Because if the any particular program (eg the NSA program) gets reeled back in a little (for public show), any action won't apply to the US Marshal's program. Everything lives in it's own little box. Shutting one box leaves all other boxes as they were and everytime you turn your back to close another one the one that you just closed springs open again while you're not looking.

    They're not ashamed to implicityly state publically that anyone who thinks they can make any long term change is wasting their time.

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

  • identicon
    Christenson, 26 Nov 2014 @ 1:04pm

    End of part 1 of 2-part Adam West Batman Episode

    Will the dynamic duo become Flatman and Ribbon???

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2014 @ 8:43am

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2014 @ 2:37pm

    The question to ask

    I'd always like to ask one single question of a company suspected of collaborating with the Government:

    If you were passing information to the Government under a classified program, would you tell us?

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


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