Surprise: NSA Stops Collecting Americans' Emails 'About' Foreign Targets

from the this-is-big dept

There aren't many details yet, but Charlie Savage at the NY Times has a major scoop: apparently, the NSA has halted "about" email collections. This is important. As we've discussed in the past, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA can collect info on approved "foreign targets." But here's where it got sketchy: they could collect the communications "to" them or "from" them -- which most people would expect -- but also they could collect any communications "about" them. In other words, did you joke about Osama bin Laden in an email? It's possible that under Section 702, the NSA could collect that email without a warrant. That was massively concerning because the "about" emails from Americans could contain lots of other info, and once sucked up into the NSA's system and made available to the FBI for "backdoor" incidental collection searches, could expose people to lots and lots of trouble. There have been pushes over the past few years to limit the collection to no longer include "about" communications, but those had been (as far as we knew!) unsuccessful.

And, for an unclear reason, the NSA has stopped doing that. Trevor Timm speculates that perhaps the FISA court ruled that collection illegal, which is possible (also we just noted that there were no new 702 approvals by the FISA Court last year), so perhaps the FISC is finally taking its job a bit more seriously. We've also pointed out that there have been legal fights over the fact that the DOJ lied to the Supreme Court about the nature of these "about" collections, which may have created more pressure to stop them from happening.

I'm sure that we'll find out more about what happened in the near future, but this will certainly play a large role in the upcoming debate about renewing Section 702.


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  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 10:52am

    They may have discovered that "about" communications regarding Osama bin Laden since 9/11 was 95% "truther" conspiracy theories.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re:

        Or, as they have done before, they are simply lying.

        Probably redefined "stop" and/or "about"; or it's technically true, because one of their partners is "collecting" it now. (Or whatever they call scooping up emails; they already redefined "collecting" such that it's not happening.)

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

        • icon
          discordian_eris (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 11:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          They are past masters of obfuscation and sophistry, that is true. I'm always reminded of Bill Clinton and his line about what the definition of 'is' is. So now instead of a Glomar response we get this claptrap. I sort of miss the days of No Such Agency.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 12:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If you're missing the good 'ol days of a Glomar response, check out Jeff Sessions this morning on the CBS This Morning show. He probably dropped 4 or 5 of them such as "I can't confirm or deny the existence of an active DOJ case on...".

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 1:08pm

        Re: NSA lying-- as usual

        very vague sourcing on this alleged "this-is-big" story.

        Oddly, the referenced NYTimes article does not list a specific source or details on this supposed "BIG" story-- it just generally mentions an unidentified NSA statement. So much for the 'newspaper-of-record'.

        Senator Ron Wyden is prominently mentioned -- so it's a good bet this NYTimes story actually came from Wyden's office. Apparently the NYTimes is unable to directly contact the NSA itself to verify simple things (??)
        NSA has successfully rope-a-doped Wyden for many years.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 6:48pm

      Re:

      More likely, it was that they discovered that "about" communications regarding "terrorists/national security" since 9/11 was 95% "USG" conspiracy theories.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 11:09am

    Don't forget, "collection" has been certified by those in control to mean "collection + [action]" ... so ...

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 12:58pm

    Tricky choice...

    Let's see, trust an agency that has a vast history of lying to be telling the truth this time, or assume they're lying or at the very least being misleading in their comments.

    The NSA has completely and utterly destroyed any trust or benefit of the doubt they might have enjoyed, the default assumption on anything that might decrease their power should always be that they're lying through their teeth about it.

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

    • icon
      discordian_eris (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 1:43pm

      Re: Tricky choice...

      It's not so much that they lie as part of their remit pretty means they have to lie. It's that they lie to Congress behind closed doors. That is what has wrecked their credibility. One too many verifiable lies to the people charged with their oversight.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: Tricky choice...

        part of their remit pretty means they have to lie

        Why do they have to lie rather than saying "no comment"?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 3:50pm

        Re: Re: Tricky choice...

        Although interesting, your distinction is irrelevant.

        The reality is that the opinions/advise that these Generals (and other high level officials that head our IC) give, is attributed near god-like deference by our politicians and corporate media. After all, everyone knows the IC are the ever vigilant "good guys" selflessly protecting the public good. Right?

        And as you implied, it's not surprising to find that professional liars lie in the course of doing their job. The problem is, even knowing that, our politicians and corporate media continue to behave as though they (and the public) should trust them to necessarily act in the public's best interests. Something they continue to encourage currently, even in the presence of much evidence to the contrary. In fact, there's so much evidence to contrary that I can now only conclude that our dear politicians are in willing collusion.

        Given the outrageous nature of just the lies we're aware, neither our IC nor politicians should ever be trusted without audited, adversarial, third party vetted evidence to support whatever claim they are currently making.

        But instead, what we almost certainly will get is that much more unverifiable, anonymous, no-consequences, appeals to "national security" and pinky-swear reassurances. While behind the scenes they will continue to act lawlessly based solely on secret interpretations of a secret laws decided in a secret courts enforced on defendants eternally gagged by national security letters.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 1:29pm

    a voluntary end is worrisome

    What's to stop them from resuming the practice next month? I don't see where in the article where they commit to not doing it again, or where they acknowledge it was wrong.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2017 @ 7:57pm

      Re: a voluntary end is worrisome

      They havn't stopped. If there was any substance to this story there would be an army of PR shills screaming about TERRORISM. Any serious curtailment on the US Stasi programs would be very loud.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 1:36pm

    nevermind

    Update -

    https://twitter.com/charlie_savage/status/858049284071202816

    It looks like they are committing to 'no longer' include 'about' data in it's surveillance activities. And they even say they'll make an effort to delete some of their old 'about' data.

    Hopefully, their decision is irreversible.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 2:07pm

      Re: nevermind

      ??

      your reference is bogus -- it lists no identifying author or source ... your Aunt Annabelle could have written it. There's even a reader comment under it directly pointing out that it is an anonymous statement, as posted.

      besides, there is NO way to police or monitor the NSA to ensure they do what they say. Even the top management at NSA can't control what the underlings are actually accessing. NSA is literally out of control -- it should be abolished and its legitimate national defense functions mover to the Pentagon.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 3:11pm

        Re: Re: nevermind

        If you're looking for a more official looking source than twitter, you can find it as a press release from the nsa at https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/press-room/statements/2017-04-28-702-statement.shtml

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

        • icon
          discordian_eris (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 10:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: nevermind

          Quote from the NSA statement: "When incidents occur, we immediately report them to oversight bodies and develop appropriate solutions."

          Huh, Sen. Wyden will be pleased to read this. Good thing he's not susceptible to apoplectic fits. And can recognize BS when he sees it.

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2017 @ 1:58am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: nevermind

            It just depends on how you read it and what dictionary you're using.

            'Oversight bodies' = The boss of their particular department/office.

            'Appropriate solution' = Remember not to tell the boss the next time so they don't have to spend five minutes reminding you that the public doesn't have privacy when it comes to the NSA.

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

  • icon
    David (profile), 28 Apr 2017 @ 3:16pm

    Maybe they don't have the room.

    One hopes they have realized the signal to noise ratio was never good. Any dairy farmer would have been able to tell them that.

    Also, is Bluffdale, Utah running at full capacity yet?

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


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