Sunday, September 09, 2007

A belated footnote...

Updated this post about the ACLU's victory over part of the Patriot Act. It turns out that, the New York Times tells us today, that
[t]he F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.

The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” - the network of people that the target was in contact with. The bureau stopped the practice early this year in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said.
Weren't we told that it was silly to worry about this kind of wide-ranging poking around because the FBI wouldn't do it there was no real point to it? That's right, we were! (Original article here.)

While refusing to say what data it had obtained, the FBI did insist the search
was limited to people and phone numbers “once removed” from the actual target of the national security letters....
That's not incredibly reassuring and not really indicative of any restraint on the feds' part: Assume for the sake of illustration that everyone has 10 "associates" - people, groups, businesses, whatever - on the call list obtained from the phone company. So start with one, the target. That yields 10 more names. Going one step further means getting the names of the 10 that each of those 10 called. So now the FBI has the phone records not of one person but of 11 and the names and phone numbers of 90 more. (That's assuming one of those that each of that next group of 10 called was the original target, so each produced nine new names.) Not one person, but 101. And remember, none of these need be suspected of any wrongdoing; the only requirement is that the original target be somehow "relevant" to a terrorism investigation in the eyes of some FBI supervisor.
The requests for such data showed up a dozen times, using nearly identical language, in records from one six-month period in 2005 obtained by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that it brought against the government. The F.B.I. recently turned over 2,500 pages of documents to the group. The boilerplate language suggests the requests may have been used in many of more than 700 emergency or “exigent” national security letters. Earlier this year, the bureau banned the use of the exigent letters because they had never been authorized by law.
So doing what we were assured there was little point in doing was routine enough to employ boilerplate language in illegal demands for personal information. I feel such a surge of confidence in our federal law enforcement agencies.

The FBI maintains the practice of demanding information on a target's community of interest has been stopped "pending the development of an appropriate oversight and approval policy." The question then becomes just who is going to develop this policy and who is going to have "oversight." Who is there we can trust with this kind of authority? The White House (any White House)? The FBI itself? The rubber-stamp FISA court? Who? I don't know about you, but I can't think of anyone.

Footnote: According to
Matt Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and a former researcher for AT&T ... the telecommunications companies could have easily provided the F.B.I. with the type of network analysis data it was seeking because
the companies themselves have been doing it for years. What a wonderful corporatocracy we inhabit.

Another Footnote: After reading this post, my wife suggested the ACLU should be one one to develop the new policy and do the oversight. Maybe - but if they got in that tight with the feds, given all we know about the corrupting nature of power, could we really still trust them? It's kind of like the line - I think it was Gore Vidal's - that anyone who wants to be president should be automatically disqualified.

Updated to add the link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the second footnote and to clean up some garbled language.

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