NSA Makes Metadata (Including Info On Americans) Available To Domestic Law Enforcement Via 'Google-Like' Search
from the easy-peasy dept
While data collected under 12333 is supposed to be "minimized" to ditch information on "US Persons" we've already noted how backdoor searches get around that. Further, as this report reminds everyone, while "minimized" the NSA still keeps the data, and if someone (say, the DEA or FBI) wants to dig deeper, they can "un-minimize" the data.
However, the documents make clear that it is not only data about foreigners’ communications that are available on the system. Alexander’s memo states that “many millions of…minimized communications metadata records” would be available through ICREACH, a reference to the process of “minimization,” whereby identifying information—such as part of a phone number or email address—is removed so it is not visible to the analyst. NSA documents define minimization as “specific procedures to minimize the acquisition and retention [of] information concerning unconsenting U.S. persons”—making it a near certainty that ICREACH gives analysts access to millions of records about Americans. The “minimized” information can still be retained under NSA rules for up to five years and “unmasked” at any point during that period if it is ever deemed necessary for an investigation.In other words, there's a decent chance that the FBI and DEA can easily surf through these hundreds of billions of records, and "unmask" people if need be, and then make use of the infamous parallel construction to hide how they first decided to focus on a particular individual or group.
In practice, this could mean that a DEA agent identifies an individual he believes is involved in drug trafficking in the United States on the basis of information stored on ICREACH. The agent begins an investigation but pretends, in his records of the investigation, that the original tip did not come from the secret trove. Last year, Reuters first reported details of parallel construction based on NSA data, linking the practice to a unit known as the Special Operations Division, which Reuters said distributes tips from NSA intercepts and a DEA database known as DICE.And yes, this is "just metadata" but as the Intercept report notes, the NSA's own notes relating to this project reveal just how valuable metadata can be, including noting that it "has been a contribution to virtually every successful rendition of suspects and often, the deciding factor."
Tampa attorney James Felman, chair of the American Bar Association’s criminal justice section, told The Intercept that parallel construction is a “tremendously problematic” tactic because law enforcement agencies “must be honest with courts about where they are getting their information.” The ICREACH revelations, he said, “raise the question of whether parallel construction is present in more cases than we had thought. And if that’s true, it is deeply disturbing and disappointing.”
An NSA memo noted that PROTON could identify people based on whether they behaved in a “similar manner to a specific target.” The memo also said the system “identifies correspondents in common with two or more targets, identifies potential new phone numbers when a target switches phones, and identifies networks of organizations based on communications within the group.” In July 2006, the NSA estimated that it was storing 149 billion phone records on PROTON.Remember Michael Hayden gleefully admitting that the US kills people based on metadata? Well, now it turns out that we "rendition" them on metadata as well. Oh, and contrary to earlier claims about how just a few NSA analysts could examine the metadata, it now looks like tons of other government agencies, including the FBI and DEA have pretty free license to scour the data as well.
According to the NSA documents, PROTON was used to track down “High Value Individuals” in the United States and Iraq, investigate front companies, and discover information about foreign government operatives. CRISSCROSS enabled major narcotics arrests and was integral to the CIA’s rendition program during the Bush Administration, which involved abducting terror suspects and flying them to secret “black site” prisons where they were brutally interrogated and sometimes tortured. One NSA document on the system, dated from July 2005, noted that the use of communications metadata “has been a contribution to virtually every successful rendition of suspects and often, the deciding factor.”