You are here


Second Circuit Rejects NSA's Collection of Bulk Call Data

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Thursday that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' phone records is illegal, The New York Times' Charlie Savage and Jonathan Weisman reports. The panel ruled that the Patriot Act can't be interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic call metadata, but noted that Congress could choose to authorize "'such a far-reaching and unprecedented program.'" The Patriot Act is set to expire June 1.

The Patriot Act permits the collection of records deemed "'relevant'" to a national security case, but the federal government interpreted this to cover the collection of all phone-call metadata so long as relevant records were reviewed by intelligence analysts, Savage and Weisman note.

Judge Rejects Challenge to Internet Surveillance

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California has ruled that a group of AT&T customers haven't been able to show they have standing to show that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated by alleged surveillance of all of their Internet communications, The Recorder's Ross Todd reports. Even though a retired AT&T technician Mark Klein reports that the the company's Internet traffic is routed to a secret room controlled by the government, the judge "found that Klein could not establish 'the content, function, or purpose of the secure room at the AT&T site based on his own independent knowledge' and that lawyers challenging the program under the Fourth Amendment hadn't offered enough admissible evidence to support standing."

New York, Colorado and Maine Consider Drone Legislation

The New York legislature is considering bills to restrict the use of drones by law enforcement, the Tenth Amendment Center reports: "Introduced on Jan. 7, Senate Bill 411 (SB411) by Sen. Gordon Denlinger (R-Syosset) and Assembly Bill 1247 (A01247) would ban law enforcement from using a drone in a criminal investigation with a few exceptions, and would prohibit any 'person, entity, or state agency' from using a drone for surveillance anyplace a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy unless they meet specific requirements."

The Colorado Senate is also considering limits for drones, the Associated Press' Kristen Wyatt reports. The bill also would require law enforcement to have warrants before using drones.

Maine is considering a bill that would go even farther, the Tenth Amendment Center also reports. The bill would place a moratorium on all drone use until July 1, 2017, except for emergency situations. After that, law enforcement agencies would need a court order or a warrant to be able to use drones. The law also would create a private right of action for violations of the law.

UN Finds Mass Surveillance Violates Privacy Rights

The United Nations' special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights has found that mass electronic surveillance does away with the right to privacy, The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald reports: "In concluding that mass surveillance impinges core privacy rights, the report was primarily focused on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty enacted by the General Assembly in 1966, to which all of the members of the “Five Eyes” alliance are signatories. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992, albeit with various reservations that allowed for the continuation of the death penalty and which rendered its domestic law supreme. With the exception of the U.S.’s Persian Gulf allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar), virtually every major country has signed the treaty."

The rapporteur found that no country has demonstrated with evidence that mass surveillance is necessary. The report also rejected the argument that mass surveillance is justified because there is more protection for Americans than there is for foreigners, Greenwald reports: "'Article 26 of the Covenant prohibits discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, nationality and citizenship. The Special Rapporteur thus considers that States are legally obliged to afford the same privacy protection for nationals and non-nationals and for those within and outside their jurisdiction.'"

Twitter Seeks Constitutional Right to Inform When 'It Has Not Received' Surveillance Requests

When Twitter filed its First Amendment lawsuit this week challenging the government gag on disclosing government surveillance requests to its customers, the company did so to establish "a constitutional right to truthfully inform its customers and the broader public that it has not received particular types of surveillance requests. In other words, Twitter is seeking judicial endorsement of its right to publish a 'warrant canary,'" Brett Max Kaufman writes in Just Security. According to Kaufman, the Electronic Frontier defines a warrant canary as a "'regularly published statement that a service provider has not received legal process that it would be prohibited from saying it had received. Once a service provider does receive legal process, the speech prohibition goes into place, and the canary statement is removed,' thereby informing the public that the process has been received."

The reason why Twitter is fighting against government compulson to remain silent and to report when it has not received surveillance requests is that the government has taken the position that Twitter is bound by a settlement reached with other tech companies about reporting surveillance requests even though it did not sign onto the accord, Kaufman said.

Court Ruling Could Strengthen Challenges to Surveillance

Jeffrey Vagle, writing in Just Security, says that a recent decision from U.S. District Lucy Koh could strengthen the positions of plaintiffs seeking standing to challenge government surveillance. Courts have consistently ruled that plaintiffs don't have standing to challenge government surveillance, he notes, even though "research has long shown that even the mere awareness of government surveillance, under which an individual could reasonably expect herself to be observed, can yield very real chilling effect injuries, including self-censorship and an increased reluctance to associate with certain people or groups. Foucault would, of course, argue that this is the entire point of surveillance."

Koh ruled in a case involving a data breach at Adobe that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims because they need only show a "'substantial risk that the harm will occur, which may prompt plaintiffs to reasonably incur costs to mitigate or avoid that harm.'" The reasoning in Koh's decision "may be a sign that future surveillance harms will soon be recognized as an 'injury in fact,'" making it easier for plaintiffs to assert standing and keep pursuing their cases in court, Vagle said.

Twitter Challenges 'Prior Restraint' on Disclosing Government Surveillance

Twitter has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government's gag order restricting the extent the social media company can reveal the scope of government surveillance on its service, Ars Technica's David Kravets reports. Twitter argues that it faces an unconstitutional prior restraint on its speech because of the gag order: "'Twitter’s ability to respond to government statements about national security surveillance activities and to discuss the actual surveillance of Twitter users is being unconstitutionally restricted by statutes that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider's disclosure of the number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and court orders issued pursuant to FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] that it has received, if any.'"

Islamic State Swings Pendulum Toward Surveillance Again

"What a difference a year makes," writes Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy. In light of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's recent uptick in activity, including the beheadings of several Western journalists, "discussions about surveillance ... no longer fixate on the NSA's massive electronic spying that contractor Edward Snowden revealed when he leaked the spy agency's internal documents." Law professor Steve Vladeck told Foreign Policy that the effort to reform surveillance has been "'totally overtaken by ISIS.'"

Lynch was writing before the U.S. Security Council adopted a U.S. drafted-resolution to more widely suppress the travel and other activity of suspected jihadists. But his point was made even more strongly by the measure's enactment. Human Rights Watch's Andrea Prascow told Levant that the resolution does not detail how alleged jihadists and terrorists will be afforded due process regarding their right to travel.


Second Circuit Hears Arguments on Phone Surveillance

The federal government was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit yesterday to defend the National Security Agency's collection of phone call metadata for millions of Americans in order to investigate foreign terrorism, the New York Law Journal's Mark Hamblett reports: [Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stuart] Delery said the case was governed by Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), where the U.S. Supreme Court held that telephone users lack a Fourth Amendment privacy interest in the telephone numbers they dialed because they voluntarily give that information to their telephone company. [Alex] Abdo [of the American Civil Liberties Union] countered that the use of a pen register against a criminal suspect in the Smith case was a far cry from the mass accumulation of phone data on the chance it may be useful to derail a terror attack." U.S. District Judge William Pauley refused to grant an injunction against the surveillance, but two other district judges came to the opposite conclusion.


The Untargeted Predominate NSA's Foreign Surveillance

The Washington Post has another Edward Snowden-related piece: those who are not targeted in surveillance by the National Security Agency far outnumber the foreigners who are legally targeted. Nine of 10 accountholders found in a cache of intercepted conversations were not the intended surveillance targets "but were caught in a net the agency has cast for someone else," the Post reports. The newspaper reviewed 160,000 email and instant-message conversations and 7,900 documents taken from 11,000 online accounts, finding. for example, medical records sent by one relative to another, resumes, and schoolchildren's academic transcripts.

In an interview, Snowden told the Post he did want the full archive released, but he did not think journalists could understand the NSA programs '"without being able to review some of that surveillance, both the justified and unjustified.”'


Subscribe to RSS - surveillance