Three New Documents on Telephone Metadata Collection Declassified by US Government

by Istvan Fekete on July 10, 2014

The US government has declassified three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA) primary orders relating to the criticized telephony metadata program that collected information about Americans’ phone calls.

Since the Snowden leaks, the telephony metadata program has been the subject of sustained controversy: as it collects information about every single American’s daily domestic communications, privacy advocates consider the program overly invasive. It’s important to emphasize that the program doesn’t collect content, but information about the calls: when the call was placed, to whom the call was placed, and the like.

This information, however, is enough to build a pattern of your life, as Joe Biden the US Vice President highlighted in 2006: “I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing. If I know every single phone call that you made, I am able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.

And the real question here is: What do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al Qaeda?

And we’re going to trust the president and the vice president of the United States that they’re doing the right thing? Don’t count me in on that.”

The three documents declassified date from 2009, and cover the period between July and December of that year. The timeframe is important, because that’s when the NSA made a “technical modification” to its internal policies, limiting its analysis from “going beyond three ‘hops’ from an identifier user to query the [business record] metadata” it had collected. The policy change came on August 17, 2009.

President Obama called for the three-hop rule to be changed to two, which would curtail the program.

You can find the three documents here, by following these links. While all three documents are definitely a must read, here are some highlights:
– When the NSA wants to share any US person’s identifying info, a senior official must “determine that the information identifying the US person is in fact related to counterterrorism and that it is necessary to understand the counterterrorism information or assess its importance. There are exceptions, though.

– The order demands the following data to be collected: “all call records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by [redacted] for communications (i) between the US and abroad; (ii) wholly within the US, including local telephone calls”.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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