back to article NSA bulk phone records slurp to end when law lapses next month – report

Edward Snowden supporters were claiming victory for the privacy of millions of US citizens today, after the Obama administration seemingly decided not to seek a 90-day extension to allow g-men to collect bulk phone records. That surprise move, reported by the Guardian, came following the defeat of the USA Freedom Act in the …

  1. Mike Bell

    Softening us up, surely

    I find it hard to free my mind of the suspicion that this is just a sneaky trick to warm us up for the impending megaslurp that will be swung into action the next time there's a terrorist outrage.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Softening us up, surely

      Not clearly a "sneaky trick" although many of those now outraged by the current data collections will be in a great hurry to restore them after a future terrorist attack on US soil.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Softening us up, surely

        The NSA was already illegally collecting data before the Patriot act made it legal. What makes you think a mere law change will make them stop?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Softening us up, surely

      For the NSA this is probably just a minute shudder as it thunders forward on its track. The show must go on.

  2. Gannon (J.) Dick

    Cheer up NSA, you only have to do as you're told.

    Stop now or the Snowden's who will be protecting your ass and your reputation will just get younger every day.

    J. Edgar is just another tart in cheap dress to the kids. Think about it.

  3. Captain DaFt

    Congressional Memo - Internal use only

    "People, it's election time, so try to look like you care about your constituent's concerns until election day, OK? Then we can go back to collecting all that cash from our corporate overlords while fact finding in the Bahamas."

  4. tom dial Silver badge

    So the President did not ask for an extension. This might well indicate that the telephone metadata database was not thought all that important and was not used extensively - as the documents Snowden released illegally and those the government later declassified and released actually show. It kind of looks at present as if the sundowned parts of the ill-begotten USA PATRIOT act will expire on schedule, possibly to be replaced later by modified versions.

    However, if there is another significant terrorist attack in the US the NSA, CIA, FBI and possibly others will be blamed for not detecting and preventing it. And we surely can expect calls for increased surveillance and condemnation of those who failed to vote to continue the extensive data collection will accompany the ensuing panic, as it did in 2001.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Remember that nothing has changed about collecting complete foreign communications, which can include the US half as well under Presidential Executive Orders 12333, 13355, and 13470. That ignores anything more done by W. and Obama as we just don't know unless we stumble across them. The NSA and the DNI aren't completely neutered and none of the political conversations have not even mumbled about the FBI and DHS.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "NSA, CIA, FBI and possibly others will be blamed for not detecting and preventing it"

      Never mind that the 9/11 guys were flagged to the FBI and others several times by concerned citizens.

      The existing laws in place then were perfectly adequate to deal with them (and outliers such as Tim McVeigh), IF the agencies had been competent and not engaging in turf wars.

  5. conscience
    Black Helicopters

    Sounds like a PR stunt to me.

    I can't see the US having any intention of giving up their mass data collection activities. They might keep their head down for a while and try to hide it better but I'll bet not much changes.

    1. Mark 85

      I'm thinking they are giving up a bunch. Cell phones are an issue with NSA as far as monitoring. It's more accurate for them to the get the data from the Telco. The provision for the telephone data grab only covered line type phones which are a dying breed here in the States.

      I suspect that the PATRIOT Act will be allowed to die. The so-called FREEDOM Act needs some serious tweaking if it has a chance of passing.

      This all my surmising based upon various articles, interviews, etc. It won't surprise me to find I'm wrong and by the same token to find out I was right. It's politics and power and us mere mortals can't really begin to fathom what goes on in the halls of government.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        The telephone metadata included cell phones; Revelation One, as I recall it, was the FISC order to Verizon for business cell phone records.

    2. K

      Have to agree.

      After all they need to justify the huge Data Center(s) some how..

      Perhaps they could lease it to PornHub.. might help alleviate the constant buffering!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's been done before....

        F5 Networks used to run a free porn site to generate the kind of traffic needed to test new load balancers - the thinking was that, unlike a lot of other sites, there would be no downside to downtime....

        Wouldn't surprise me at all if the NSA was running a whole raft of questionable sites in order to introduce malware or just plain gather dirt.....

        1. chivo243 Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: It's been done before....

          "Wouldn't surprise me at all if the NSA was running a whole raft of questionable sites in order to introduce malware or just plain gather dirt....."

          How true. If we can imagine it, there is a good chance there is something very much like it already in place... These are the thoughts that wake me up at night.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It's been done before....

            do you think they're behind the and other honeypots?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I thought the data center was just a front for the working quantum computer using Shor's Algorithm to break all the backlogs of encrypted data.

  6. Spaceman Spiff


    Unfortunately, the NSA and its ilk don't give a darned about legality in collecting this data. They will do it anyway, and classify it "top secret" so no one gets to see it other than those in the agency. Until the NSA and GCHQ are disbanded in their entirety, this stuff will go on, and there is nothing we can do about it... :-(

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Unfortunately

      But what's to stop a black version of said agencies already existing and still doing the stuff you describe, only with no real way to keep them in check because its very existence is top secret?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Unfortunately

        "What's to stop a black version of said agencies already existing"

        Nothing. The fact that the NSA is out in the open is more-or-less an admission that there is at least one more in existence, the same way that the NSA was top secret when the CIA started coming out of the shadows.

        BY the same token the russians will have something sitting in the shadows whilst everyone's paying attention to the FSB and GRU.

      2. keith_w

        Re: Unfortunately

        Yeah, they could call it the "No Such Agency"

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Unfortunately

      The documents Edward Snowden caused to be released, additional documents the government later declassified and released, and Executive Order 12333 all generally support a claim that the NSA as an agency and its employees care about and attempt, largely successfully, to follow the law as it exists. That is not to say there are not lapses sucha typographical error that resulted in collection of Washington DC calls in place of Egyptian calls, or cases of individual military or civilian employees targeting spouses or dates. It also is not to say that the agency did not seek, and sometimes obtain, expansive interpretations of the law to support what its management saw as its proper mission, or that they did not seek changes to the law to expand their legal authority. Most of the activities reported, however, are consistent with US law as it is, however much it may differ from what some of us think it ought to be, and were known of in some detail and approved by two executive departments and a properly constituted court. I suspect much the same is true, with differences due to law and customs, of the activities of GCHQ, CSEC, DSD, and GCSB.

      It is quite reasonable to believe the laws should be changed, and to advocate for that, but it is not reasonable to believe, based on what we know, that the NSA, and probably the other Five Eyes agencies systematically violate existing laws.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Nobody says they're violating the law

        We have been specifically and clearly told that they are respecting the law, a law that has been put in place for the express purpose of allowing them to do this data slurping in a perfectly legal way.

        The fact that the law is immoral, brought on by the ever more paranoid spirit of politicians today and likely to change for the worse in the future is not something that the government needs to worry about.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Nobody says they're violating the law

          Correct as to fact, I think, and certainly defensible as to the conclusion. The only thing I would add is that a government executive or legislator desiring reelection normally will be quite concerned about the possibility of being seen as partly responsible for bad events like terrorist attacks. In particular, they would worry about being blamed if it should appear after the fact (but before the next election) that it could have been prevented but for intelligence information missed, due to failure to obtain or insufficient funding or staffing to analyze. As happened in the US after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

          The more recent uproar over signals surveillance should give them pause to consider other aspects of policy and law, and may lead to a better balance overall, but it will not entirely suppress the concern that they should be seen to be in favor of public safety.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Problem is already solved.

    "The result: as of 1 June this year, the NSA will no longer have legal cover to gather phone records [within America] to try to hunt down suspected terrorists." - That will be GCHQ's task, to collect the data within the US and then when there is enough probable cause the yanks can retroactively request the previously stored data from England. It is already part of the agreement between governments that are part of Echelon.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Problem is already solved.

      That assumes something quite unlikely, that GCHQ has physical access to US telephone metadata, or the ability to compel its delivery to them. The Section 215 metadata program that looks like being terminated is implemented by court orders that compel carriers to deliver call records to the government. It is not a "slurp" in anything like the sense of, say, the XKEYSCORE program, which will continue to be entirely lawful (under US law).

  8. Charles Manning

    Who is really stupid enough to believe this?

    Three letter agencies are above the law. They don't care what people tell them to do.

    I grew up in apartheid South Africa. We had all sorts of sanctions from various countries (USA, UK, Canada,...). Later it comes out the CIA and South African government were arm-in-arm in the war in Angola. The CIA was supplying arms and arms design information to South Africa and South Africa was supplying info gathered from captured USSR weapons back to USA.

    To think that anything has materially changed since then would be grossly naive.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Who is really stupid enough to believe this?

      While the activities described (in very general terms) may have violated US law, it might also be that it was not. Government agencies may sometimes do lawfully, in international affairs, things forbidden to private sector companies. CIA collection from South African agents of information is unlikely to have violated any US laws, and supplying arms design information and arms for purposes approved by the President might be illegal or not, depending on the details of the arrangements under which it occurred.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Who is really stupid enough to believe this?

      " Later it comes out the CIA and South African government were arm-in-arm in the war in Angola. "

      Not to mention that the CIA was responsible for most of the tonnage of the crack epidemic in USA inner cities during the early 1980s (CIA aircraft were shipping hundreds of tons of weapons/ammunition south and bringing cocaine north on the return trips to fund those deals. It was all part of Iran-Contra, authorised by Ronald Raygun and all came out during the Ollie North trials but didn't get much media coverage for some reason) - #2 on the list. The others will have you shaking your head too.

  9. RISC OS

    They'll still be doing it

    they just won't tell people that they are

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: They'll still be doing it

      They won't: Verizon and the other carriers almost certainly would out them if they were able to get a court order for the phone records, but no court, including the FISC, would issue one after the law expires..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They'll still be doing it

        So the courts would just issue an order BEFORE the law expires that includes a shush clause. Verizon wouldn't be able to out them since the law's still in effect at the time, making the order legally binding even after the law expires (since by Constitution you can't change a law retroactively). Meaning Verizon legally wouldn't be allowed to "out" them.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed the verbal trick in play..

    Look properly:

    as of 1 June this year, the NSA will no longer have legal cover to gather phone records to try to hunt down suspected terrorists.


    Republican Senator Rand Paul, whose 10 and half hour filibuster opposed the g-men's blanket surveillance of US citizens' phone records, tweeted:

    The Senate will return one week from Sunday. With your help we can end illegal NSA spying once and for all.

    So, two conclusions:

    (1) the NSA will no longer have legal cover for its activities. But that wasn't actually the problem, other than that we have seen legalisation after the fact, also with GCHQ.

    (2) there is really no mention of any followup on the discovery that the NSA was illegally collecting data (outside of remit and official tasking), so item (1) makes not one jot of difference. Given that its illegal activities have had no consequences whatsoever, why would they even care? As long as there is no law in play that is actually enforced they can just carry on as usual, and the USA Freedom Act was nuked. Ergo, plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

    Nothing whatsoever has changed, it was all a great farce.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never count your chickens...

    ...before their eggs hatch--even then you may not get all you were hoping for. I never take anything my government says at face value. They have told me too many lies too often. I suggest that all you good people do the same.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never count your chickens...

      But that would basically mean not trusting ANYONE, since if you can't trust the government, who CAN you trust (since ANYONE could be in the Government)? Does that mean canned-food-and-shotguns time?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Well, hopefully this will make a dent in the collection of data on Americans

    It won't make any difference on the collection of data on the rest of humanity though.

  13. codejunky Silver badge

    Hang on

    I thought they did the data collection and then got the activity retrospectively legalised?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like