from the given-the-preponderance-of-spy-programs,-why-not dept
The thing about transparency is that it's not just about what you reveal. It's also about what you choose to keep hidden. In the ongoing docket for the government's 2015 bulk records requests, there appears to be a missing document.
BR 15-75 (BR = "business records," "15" = 2015) -- the government's request to have 180 days' worth of "business [records] as usual" collections before the limitations of the USA Freedom Act kick in -- is present. So is the opinion addressing the repercussions of the passage of USA Freedom, which is denoted as "BR 15-77, BR 15-78." But where -- and what -- is BR 15-76?
Patrick Toomey at Just Security has a theory:
It’s hard to be certain, but it’s likely that BR 15-76 is an application to restart the phantom CIA bulk financial records program or another undisclosed bulk collection program. Beginning in late 2013, multiple outlets reported on the CIA’s bulk collection of Americans’ international money transfer records from companies like Western Union and Moneygram. Other outlets stated at the time that the CIA program overlapped significantly with efforts to collect “financial transaction data” by both the NSA and the Treasury Department. And according to the New York Times, beyond the CIA program, several officials “said more than one other bulk collection program has yet to come to light.”If Toomey is correct, I wonder how long said "undisclosed program" will remain undisclosed. Others have come to light over the years, including the DEA's concurrent collection of domestic phone records, something it apparently ditched to give the DOJ only "one" bulk records collection to defend publicly.
Previous to the post-Snowden era of begrudging transparency, omissions are no longer going to go unnoticed. In the discussion of the BR 15-77,78 opinion, it was noted that no order was attached, meaning the government has presumably not yet received a go-ahead from the court on phone metadata. Ever since the Office of the Director of National Intelligence engaged Transparency Mode, the FISA Court has regularly delivered orders and opinions on the NSA's bulk collection activities. While some orders have been shortly delayed, there's never been a complete omission, nor this long of a gap between expiration of a previous order and a reinstatement of the collection request.
Now that the FISC is playing along with the new transparency, omissions of any sort are simply unacceptable. As Toomey states, if this missing paperwork is related to another bulk records collection (possibly one authorized under pre-Patriot Act stipulations), it's not acceptable that the government has chosen to withhold it from the public. The public doesn't have less right to know about the harvesting of its records simply because said program hasn't been forced out into the open yet.