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FISA, Phone Calls, and the End of Privacy
Author: TriSec    Date: 10/17/2007 13:01:44

You might have noticed this is rather long. My intention when I started collecting info for this blog post was to discuss the FISA program and the phone companies. I found some other info that was certainly eye-opening, so I thought I'd share it, despite the length.

First of all - what sort of information is the government looking for when they make a request? According to this 13-page letter that Verizon released to the Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday, the government wants to know:
1. Subscriber Name;
2. Subscriber Address;
3. Local and long distance telephone connection records, or records of session times and durations;
4. Length of service and type of service utilized;
5. Telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, including any temporarily assigned network address; and
6. Means and source of payment for such service, including credit card or bank account number of a subscriber to such service.
(bold-face mine)

excuse me? Local calls?? Didn't Bush specifically say they only got the info for calls made into or out of this country? Keep this in mind - it will be important later...

The telecoms vary in their approach to the request. Verizon seems to just turn over whatever is requested. Per this post on RawStory:
Verizon has provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis without a court order -- and without determining the requests' legality -- 720 times between January 2005 and September of this year.

The company's revelation came in a 13-page letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee released Monday.


The Verizon letter also revealed that the FBI used National Security Letters to request a "two-generation community of interest" related to a particular subscriber, meaning a list of every person the target called and every person called by those people. Verizon says it does not keep such information.
720 times without even verifying the legality...

That "two-generation" thing is put into perspective in this post by John Avarosis on AmericaBlog:
Let me put this in simpler terms. Anyone of you who have ever emailed me, or chatted with me by phone, may very well have had your name included in the government's domestic spying sweep.

Why? Because a good friend of mine is Pakistani-American, and she regularly chats with folks in Pakistan. And under our government's new standard, if you chat with me, and I chat with someone who chats with someone in Pakistan, then the government has the right to look at the details of your communication with me.

ComCast has gone so far as to create a "guide" document for complying with information requests, and it provides some interesting information. Per this article:
The cost for performing any FISA surveillance "requiring deployment of an intercept device" is $1,000.00 for the "initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service)," according to a newly disclosed Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement (pdf).

Thereafter, the surveillance fee goes down to "$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active."

In the linked document, ComCast describes the identifying info they can search on:
Comcast has the ability to identify only Comcast High Speed Internet Subscriber accounts based on the following criteria:

• Internet Protocol (IP) address including date and time of incident;
• email account identifier;
• subscriber name and address; and
• subscriber account number.

Typically, upon receipt of a properly and timely (within 6 months) submitted valid and
statutorily authorized legal request, Comcast can supply the subscriber’s name, address, telephone number, email accounts, Comcast account number and current account status.

At least ComCast makes sure they only provide the information when legally requested:
Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Act of 1978
Title 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1862 and new §§ 105A and B. Submissions to Comcast should be coordinated with the FBI field office in Trenton, NJ or Philadelphia, PA. A Special Agent will be tasked to hand deliver the request to Comcast. Upon receipt, Comcast will handle all documents with the appropriate care and security as required by law.

National Security Letter
All National Security Letters should be coordinated with the FBI field office in Trenton, NJ or Philadelphia, PA. A Special Agent will be tasked to hand deliver the request to Comcast. Upon receipt Comcast will handle all documents with the appropriate care and security as required by law. Attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue.

I think this is all good information for us to know. If they're going to spy on Americans, we should know when, what, and why. So now we know "what". We won't ever know "when" - per Bloomberg News:
Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Three of the largest U.S. telephone companies declined to answer lawmakers' questions about Bush administration efforts to spy on Americans' phone calls and e- mails, saying the government forbade them from doing so.

"Our company essentially finds itself caught in the middle of an oversight dispute between the Congress and the executive relating to government surveillance activities", AT&T Inc. General Counsel Wayne Watts said in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that was released today by the panel.


Verizon and Qwest said the Justice Department prohibited them from offering any substantive comment on their roles in the spy program...
So once again, the Executive shrouds its activities in secrecy and sucks in the corporate giants with them.

And of course, the Administration says the "why" is because of 9/11.

Oh really? Then why have they been pursuing the collection of phone records for every single phone call made in the U.S. since Feb 2001??:
Per RawStory:
A former CEO who stood up to the Bush administration's demands that he assist in the warrantless surveillance of Americans suggests in court documents that the National Security Agency withdrew a lucrative contract in retaliation for his refusal.

Documents released as part of Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's insider trading trail also seem to indicate that the NSA was discussing the secretive, possibly illegal, surveillance of Americans several months before the 9/11 attacks President Bush used to justify the program.

The heavily redacted legal filings reveal the "classified defense" Nacchio was unable to present during his trial, and they outline a Feb. 27, 2001, meeting between the Qwest CEO and NSA officials to discuss a $100 million infrastructure project, and another topic. Discussion of the second topic was blacked-out in released court documents, but observers believe the NSA could've been discussing its program to compile a database of tens of millions of Americans' phone records


USA Today revealed last year that Qwest was the only phone company not to comply with the NSA's request to compile phone records into a massive computer database, which it said was instituted only after 9/11...

(bold-face mine)

Here's the detail from the USA Today article:
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

So the Bush Administration tells America that they need to do these wiretaps for calls in and out of the United States because of 9/11, when the reality is they've been working on tracking EVERY phone call EVEN INSIDE the United States since 6 months PRIOR to 9/11, and they are getting detailed data on people not even directly related to the people making international calls. On top of all this, they are conscripting corporations as part of it, swearing them to secrecy, punishing them if they don't comply, and leaving them unable to discuss it.

For a government so obsessed with their own secrecy, they seem to have no regard for ours.

96 comments (Latest Comment: 11/08/2007 19:43:55 by Raine)
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