Yesterday, Twitter was aflutter with articles about how, due to successful legal action by the ACLU, the Justice Department released documents revealing a sharp increase in use by the government of "pen register" and "trap and trace" surveillance powers over the past couple of years. However, this revelation, which had many clutching their pearls, dealt "only" with surveillance of information about--rather than the contents of--communications; in other words, this kind of surveillance, which so many found disturbing, wasn't over the far-more-alarming actual communications. That's left up to the National Security Agency (NSA).
As we all know, Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Udall (D-CO) famously said:
It is a matter of public record that section 215, which is a public statute, has been the subject of secret legal interpretations. The existence of these interpretations, which are contained in classified opinions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ("FISA Court") has been acknowledged on multiple occasions by the Justice Department and other executive branch officials. We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Well, yesterday I Tweeted out the secret interpretation: the government has access to all third-party subscriber data on a scale far outside the plain language of 215.
The lack of response on Twitter surprised me. I'm even more surprised by the lack of denial by the White House or Congress. Have we become that inured to the normalization of access by the government, in secret, to any and all of our multitude of transactions that are part and parcel of "business records"?
What is "third-party subscriber information" of yours that the government has access to without a warrant?
Your bank records with Sun Trust; your prescriptions with CVS; your Amazon account of what books you've ordered; all the library items you check out; Paypal transactions; all the movies you order from Netflix; your public transit records (including each and every single time--and where--you enter and exit from the subway); your E-ZPass records of where and when you are driving, your PeaPod grocery list items; all phone, TV, cable and Internet service providers (like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, et al).
I cannot share my evidence of the secret interpretation. But, as an example, the
Narus equipment in the AT&T building in San Francisco takes data off the fiber optic
lines in the US. That's full reconstruction of data passing on these fibers. This
includes all the e-mail, file transfers etc. passing between US citizens as well as
foreigners on these lines. Plus, all the telcoms had to be given retroactive immunity
for providing customer data (estimates as high as 3 billion calls a day over 11 years
to date) to the government. The collection of all this data is why they have to
build storage facilities like in Bluffdale, Utah, because they don't have the capability
to determine what information is important--so they just store it all.
But the MSM and blogosphere can certainly call the White House, Justice Department and Congress and ask for a denial.