Supreme Court's Warrant Requirement For Cell Site Location Info Apparently Killed Another Domestic Surveillance Program

from the i,-for-one,-welcome-a-Supreme-Court-killing-spree dept

Oh, guess what? The NSA has ended another third party data collection -- one it hopefully ended right after the Supreme Court's Carpenter decision was released. Spencer Ackerman fills in the details at the Daily Beast.

U.S. intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cell-phone location data without a warrant on people inside the United States, the office of the director of national intelligence has affirmed.

Sounds good. Sounds like the NSA probably doesn't have a legal way to continue this warrantless collection now that the Supreme Court has ruled historical cell site location info is covered by the Fourth Amendment. It's been nearly 18 months since this decision was released. The letter sent to Ron Wyden by the ODNI indicates the Intelligence Community abandoned its harvesting of CSLI shortly after that ruling.

But, as Ron Wyden points out, the ODNI isn't willing to state publicly that the Supreme Court's decision was a contributing factor to its mothballing of the CSLI collection.

“The Intelligence Community has now publicly revealed that, since the Supreme Court decision more than a year ago, it hasn’t used Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to track Americans,” Wyden said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “At the same time, the government is hedging its bets by not formally acknowledging that the Supreme Court case applies to intelligence surveillance…"

This is another of the NSA's Section 215 collections. The most famous collection under Section 215 was the one exposed by the first Snowden leak: phone call metadata. This collection was retooled by the USA Freedom Act, which forced the IC to approach telcos with targeted orders supported by reasonable suspicion. The NSA was apparently so used to just collecting it all, it couldn't manage to find a way to obtain this data without violating the law. It was abandoned and the NSA recommended to have it shut down forever. The FBI doesn't like that idea, though, and wants Congress to give the phone metadata collection -- along with everything else harvested under Section 215 -- a permanent reauthorization.

At least that's not going to happen. It looks like the phone metadata collection will now become the only thing that's truly forever: dead.

A forthcoming bill from the House judiciary and intelligence committees will reauthorize three other surveillance measures set to expire, but will not permit the Call Detail Records program to survive. With expiration set for Dec. 15, whatever the Senate does the Call Detail Records program, barring some eleventh-hour legislative chicanery, looks like the rarest of birds: a post-9/11 surveillance activity on course for extinction.

You can draw a straight line from the Snowden leaks to the death of this collection. The Patriot Act gave the NSA a handy way to spy on Americans. 14 years later, the USA Freedom Act scaled back that power, altering the program enough that the NSA couldn't seem to find a way to collect these records without violating the law. Five years after this minor surveillance reform effort, the program will be put out of its misery.

But the NSA has plenty of other collection authorities that will remain unchanged and mostly unexamined. Even this Section 215 collection -- which seemingly violates Supreme Court precedent -- hasn't received much public discussion. It seems clear warrantless collection of cell site location info is now illegal, but until more details head Wyden's way, we probably should assume the Office of Legal Counsel is trying to assemble a rationale that allows the Intelligence Community to route around the Carpenter roadblock.

But, if nothing else, the phone metadata collection is dead. Forever. And that's worth celebrating.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, cell site location info, csli, location info, nsa, odni, ron wyden, surveillance, warrants


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Nov 2019 @ 11:25am

    At some point we really need to demand actual evidence.
    Not just we think, well maybe, blah blah blah... actual evidence of what any of these programs have done that justify them.

    Pretty sure there aren't any, consider the FBI has to invent terrorism plots to stop but manage to miss all of the white nationalists plotting to shoot places up. They are gathering up all of this data & can only bust a guy who needs to borrow the $40 to send ISIS so he can star in the show trial of providing material support.

    We have to do this or the terrorists win!!!
    I suggest the terrorists have won, because we have lost so many of our freedoms in this quest to be safe from boogeymen & shadows.

    We need had factual proof that this has lead to anything other than giant checks paid to corporations selling us tiger repelling rocks & maintenance costs to keep the rocks in tip top shape.

    Shall we finally accept that to be safe we allowed them to violate the law & our rights were the first casualty of this imaginary war.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2019 @ 11:56am

      Re:

      These programs haven't even provided info to use in the manufactured terrorism plots the FBI break up.

      The leads from the manufactured plots come about from people being reported to the FBI/DEA - mainly from either informants who need to inform on someone to get paid, or family members who are worried a relative is being radicalised and they mistakenly hope the FBI will re-radicalise them but they are more interesting in entrapping them.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2019 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      While measuring harm can be somewhat subjective: I suspect (or belive, if that's the way you'd like it phrased) Americans have done more harm to Americans as a response to terrorism, than the terrorists ever managed to do.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2019 @ 1:21pm

        Re: Re:

        After 9/11, there was a measured increase in annual traffic deaths greater than the number of people who died in the incident. It's believed to be because more people are opting to drive rather than fly. It's hard to tell whether that's due to annoyance with the TSA and new security rules, or fear of terrorism.

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

    • identicon
      Whoever, 18 Nov 2019 @ 4:05pm

      Data collection and the deep state.

      You would think that those promoting the "Deep state" conspiracy theory would be all over this.

      This type of data collection provides blackmail material that would be extremely useful if you are a deep state actor and want to blackmail politicians and those in positions of power.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2019 @ 11:34am

    Now if you can just get all the non US foreign intelligence agencies including 5 Eyes to obey the US Supreme Court.

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

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 18 Nov 2019 @ 12:15pm

    Other Avenues

    While cell data is valuable to domestic surveillance, how about vehicle data? The vehicle manufacturers are collecting up to 25 GB of data per day from every vehicle, including data from a bluetooth connected cell phone. Who is looking at that data? Who is regulating it? As a vehicle owners, you have no rights and no ability to opt out. So the car companies know where you are going, who you are texting, how fat your passengers are, and a whole bunch of personal information about you and apparently almost no one cares.

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

  • identicon
    bobob, 18 Nov 2019 @ 1:19pm

    Given that those warrantless programs existed in the first place, there are most likely others that make losing one irrelevant.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 18 Nov 2019 @ 1:49pm

    Given their willingness to abandon the program, it does make me wonder if they have something that replaced it that we're not aware of.

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 19 Nov 2019 @ 2:42am

    We Lied, We Cheated and We Stole

    But, if nothing else, the phone metadata collection is dead. Forever. And that's worth celebrating.

    These people/entities have zero credibility. They have simply redefined the terminology used from phone metadata to some other innocuous sounding verbiage.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: "I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment."

    https://twitter.com/grayzoneproject/status/1121127619431419905?lang=en

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


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