With some of the proceedings unsealed in the EFF's long-running Jewel vs. NSA
lawsuit, more details can finally be exposed. Not that what's already been exposed hasn't been damning enough. Over the past several months, the DOJ has run interference
for the NSA, traveling from courtroom to courtroom, destroying and saving (or at least pretending to...) collected data amongst a flurry of contradictory orders.
Not that it ultimately mattered. The NSA just kept destroying
relevant evidence, claiming the system was too complex to do anything with but allow to run its course. Evidence would be destroyed at the 5-year limit, no matter what preservation orders were issued. The NSA, of course, has a vested interest in destroying evidence that its 215 and 702 programs collect the data and communications of Americans. Thanks to Snowden's leaks
, it can no longer pretend it doesn't. But despite this, the DOJ still claims Section 702 targets only foreigners and American suspects located outside of the US.
The mock concern about compliance with court orders was a hustle. The DOJ wants as much evidence that might be useful to plaintiffs gone as swiftly as possible. Thanks to the unsealing of Jewel court documents, the EFF can now relate that the DOJ's efforts went much further than simply letting aged-off collections expire. It also actively tried to change
the historical record of the Jewel case, as Mike covered here recently.
Citing classification concerns, the DOJ sought to editorialize its statements to the court, removing them (not redacting
them) from the public record… and it didn't want anyone to find out. Take a moment to soak in the audacity of this request, made by the US government in a federal court.
If the judge had sided with the DOJ, there's a good chance some of the transcript embedded below would have gone missing… forever. Even after the documents were eventually unsealed, whatever the government had managed to convince the court was "classified" would no longer exist -- despite the fact that one week earlier these statements were made in an open court room.
It's likely that the judge's decision to notify the plaintiffs changed the DOJ's mind about retconning its own statements. It's a good thing nothing's missing. What's in there is terrible. The DOJ basically mounts the argument that no plaintiff
have standing to challenge either the Section 215/501 or 702 programs, unless they are Verizon Business customers
… and even then they should only be able to challenge the former. (Apologies for the all caps, but that's the way the court transcribed it.)
AND WE SET THIS FORTH, AGAIN, FOR THIS COURT IN OUR MOST RECENT FILING IN WHICH THE DNI ASSERTED THE STATES SECRET PRIVILEGE AND EXPLAINED TO THE COURT THAT NOTWITHSTANDING ALL THESE TERRIBLE DISCLOSURES THAT OCCURRED OVER THE PAST YEAR -- IN FACT, THIS IS THE ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY -- DISCLOSURES THAT WE ARE CONVINCED THAT HAVE SERIOUSLY HARMED THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THIS COMPANY, WE HAVE CONTINUED TO PROTECT THE IDENTITY OF PARTICULAR TELECOMMUNICATION CARRIERS THAT ARE ALLEGED TO HAVE ASSISTED THE NSA, NOT ONLY IN THE SECTION 215 PROGRAM, WHICH WAS AT ISSUE IN THE CASES YOU CITED, BUT ALSO IN THE PRESIDENT'S SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM, ACTIVITIES WHICH ARE AT ISSUE IN JEWEL AND SHUBERT, AS WELL.
SO WE HAVE NOT CONCEDED THAT STANDING COULD BE FOUND BASED ON THE MERE EXISTENCE OF THE BULK TELEPHONY META DATA PROGRAM, IF THAT IS YOUR QUESTION.
Got that, citizens? Because we have made the choice to
withhold information, you will only
have standing to challenge these programs under very narrow circumstances. The government is looking out for the best interests of its partners in surveillance. The rights of citizens are much further down the list.
And while acknowledging that it has withheld info on the telephony metadata program, the DOJ's lawyers simultaneously claim the plaintiffs should have been prevented from amending their case to include the recent Section 702 revelations, because that program has supposedly been out in the open and fully transparent since 2008.
SO I HARDLY KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN. BUT I WILL START WITH THIS. FIRST OF ALL, THE CONTENTION THAT 702 DID NOT EXIST WHEN THE COMPLAINT WAS FILED IS A FALSEHOOD. 702 WAS ENACTED IN 2008, IN JULY OF 2008, AS PART OF THE FISA ACT AMENDMENTS OF 2008.
NOT ONLY DID IT EXIST BEFORE THIS COMPLAINT WAS FILED, THE JEWEL PLAINTIFFS KNEW ABOUT IT, BECAUSE IT'S PRECISELY WHY THEY FILED SUIT. THAT LEGISLATION CREATED IMMUNITY FOR THE TELECOMMUNICATION COMPANIES.
THE ACLU OVER IN NEW YORK, KNEW QUITE WELL IT EXISTED. THEY FILED A COMPLAINT, I THINK, THE DAY IT WAS ENACTED INTO LAW. AND THAT MADE A LOT OF HEADLINES, AND IT WAS LITIGATED. AND IT WAS ALL, ALL PUBLIC. NO SECRET PROGRAM. AND IT WAS OUT THERE. SO THAT STATEMENT IS JUST NOT TRUE.
THE SECOND THING THAT'S NOT TRUE IS HER PROGRAM DESCRIPTION. 702 IS A PUBLIC STATUTORY PROGRAM. IF YOU LOOK AT THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL DECISION, IT DETAILS HOW THAT PROGRAM OPERATES. AND SO THAT IS THE SOURCE OF WHAT SHOULD BE THE COURT'S UNDERSTANDING FOR THIS PROGRAM AND HOW IT OPERATES.
Completely disingenuous. The program was never "out in the open." It protected telcos and helped codify warrantless wiretapping, but there was never any indication given that it also allowed the NSA to tap into the internet backbone and siphon off communications of Americans. And it certainly wasn't presented as a tool to be used as an untargeted dragnet.
This is only a small part of a document the DOJ wanted to selectively edit and present later as an untouched factual record of a federal hearing. The government claims no one
has standing because everything related to the NSA's programs is "rank speculation" -- basically pretending the "terrible disclosures" never happened. In the same breath, it claims the programs have always been transparent and completely above board, therefore no one should be able to amend their complaints when additional info is exposed by leakers.
The government not only wants it both ways, but it has the breathtaking gall to ask to touch up its talking points after delivering them. After a dozen attempts to wrap up this post with something that pithily highlights the anger the government's editing attempt (and the horrible arguments contained in the transcript) has generated in me, I'm left with little more than this: FUCK THE DOJ -- it and every agency it oversees.
It witholds information about the companies involved in its dragnet surveillance programs, covers up everything else and pretends unauthorized disclosures "don't count," at least not when it comes to citizens being granted standing. It could easily clear up this "rank speculation," but it would rather shelter telcos from irate customers and give itself an easy way to get lawsuits dismissed. Then it spins everything around and claims the plaintiffs are misrepresenting the programs to the court -- something the DOJ has actually done itself -- and should not be allowed to amend complaints to reflect additional evidence gleaned from leaked documents.
Hey, I'm sorry the leaks have made it harder for these agencies to do whatever the hell they want, but they are all part of a government that's supposed to be accountable to the citizens picking up the check. But when faced with unhappy citizens and their diminished rights, all the DOJ's lawyers can say is that the public doesn't know shit and has no right to question the government's activities.
The government has somehow managed to come to a conclusion
others reached weeks ago
-- there's more than one leaker out there. GOOD. Burn it down. In the DOJ's hands, the government isn't by or for the people. It's despite
the people. The DOJ can't be trusted to protect the balance between privacy and security. As it sees it, what the public doesn't know will likely hurt it, and it's damned if it's going to allow citizens to seek redress for their grievances.