U.S. secret surveillance court rules phone metadata collection lawful

U.S. secret surveillance court rules phone metadata collection lawful

Summary: The mass collection of telephone metadata is not unlawful, according to the U.S. secret surveillance court, despite public outrage.

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A U.S. secret surveillance court has ruled the mass collection of telephone call data by the U.S. government as lawful, despite fears that the practice may fall in breach of Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted searches.

In an opinion released on Tuesday, dated August 29, U.S. Foreign Intelligence Court Judge Claire Eagen said the initial ruling allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to vacuum up vast amounts of domestic and international call data does not violate the law.

The document [PDF], released by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), said it found "no Constitutional impediment to the requested production" of metadata from phone companies order to hand over "all tangible things" under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

"The Court concludes that there are facts showing reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought are relevant to authorized investigations," the document read.

In spite of this, Eagen said the court was "mindful" that the opinion comes at a time when "unprecedented disclosures" have been made about "highly-sensitive programs," such as the PRISM and Upstream programs.

Noting the public's reaction, the opinion was declassified to allay fears of lack of transparency within the secret court.

Tuesday's disclosure comes three months after the first round of leaks provided to U.K. and U.S. newspapers by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which detailed in part the extent of the U.S. government's mass surveillance operations in conjunction with other nations.

The first document released by Snowden was a court order directed at Verizon, which ordered over data details of calls made to and from U.S. customers, including times, caller and destination details.

While the contents of calls are not collected under the specific order, other secret orders are believed to allow such collection.

The three-month order gave the U.S. government agency an endless supply of data for the period. It was subsequently amended when it expired, despite the negative public reaction, as it had been since it was first issued seven years prior.

The full order can be found below.

Topics: Security, Government US, Privacy

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61 comments
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  • Imagine that. The rubber stamp court rules illegal activity legal.

    Anyone surprised?
    ye
    • I agree with that opinion, ye.

      Secret courts are NOT what the US Constitution envisioned. I'm actually ashamed over this development because it has happened on my watch.

      It's one thing to have a secret Grand Jury. That process is NOT a trial. It's another thing to have an official of the court process a secret wire-tap order or OK a search warrant. Again, those actions do not directly render a judicial trial verdict.

      However, by it's very nature, a secret court, with secret prosecutors, with secret defense lawyers, with secret jurors can only result in actions associated with the worst forms of judicial and government practices witnessed during the twentieth century.

      The sooner this nation abolishes secret courts and secret jails (rendition) the better we will be.

      How we, as a nation, stop this practice of having secret courts is beyond my knowledge. But I do know that the first step is to publicly decry it's use. As small as my voice is, I hope it is heard.
      kenosha77a
      • And it's more than just medadata

        We have a pact. It's called Five-Eyes. Here's how it works:

        The Five-Eyes countries (United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand) wiretap each other's citizens. This side-steps laws about surveillance on one's own citizens.

        Then these countries share the results. It's been going on for decades now, and started with the Eshelon project where they eavesdrop on each other's telephone calls.
        Vbitrate
        • I didn't know that. (Although I suspected it as such)

          I suspect that "Five Eyes" is something not normally mentioned on world news outlets.
          kenosha77a
        • Sounds like a classic movie

          Two Strangers On a Train?
          jallan32
    • surprise?

      This was known in the 1990's when the government started scanning the new communications...email.
      You poor unfortunate people.
      Bradish1
    • Exactly.

      What a huge surprise that the illegal secret court which exists solely to process the secret illegal activities of our out of control government spy agencies has ruled that its own activities are legal.

      The secret court should have zero say in whether their own activities are considered legal. Hey idiots in the U.S. government - if the Constitution created by the people of this nation explicitly forbids a particular government activity, it is NOT legal, no matter how many times you assure us that it is. They should not be allowed to pick and choose which of our rules they follow. We the people did not grant them absolute power over us. We specifically gave them rules to follow, which they are ignoring. Our federal government makes me sick. The states should all jump ship and govern themselves.
      BillDem
      • Th gansters and crooks

        Very well said. NSA has been also collecting metadata since 1952 and people were not aware of that. What really makes me sick is that while all of that was going on since 1952 - before Water Gate - Nixon was forced to resigned because of the wire tapping done in the Water Gate building (Democrat's Headquarters I believe). That shows people how disgusting our government has been all alone behind people' backs. This is worst than communism!
        Cicuta2011
        • worse than communism?

          @Th:"This is worst than communism!"

          You're kidding, right? Or else you don't have a clue what communism is like. Maybe you don't have a clue what Islamic jihadists are up to, either. It's time to get out of your mom's basement and start learning about the outside world.
          JJJoseph
      • Th gansters and crooks

        Very well said. NSA has been also collecting metadata since 1952 and people were not aware of that. What really makes me sick is that while all of that was going on since 1952 - before Water Gate - Nixon was forced to resigned because of the wire tapping done in the Water Gate building (Democrat's Headquarters I believe). That shows people how disgusting our government has been all alone behind people' backs. This is worst than communism!
        Cicuta2011
      • Th gansters and crooks

        Very well said. NSA has been also collecting metadata since 1952 and people were not aware of that. What really makes me sick is that while all of that was going on since 1952 - before Water Gate - Nixon was forced to resigned because of the wire tapping done in the Water Gate building (Democrat's Headquarters I believe). That shows people how disgusting our government has been all alone behind people' backs. This is worst than communism!
        Cicuta2011
      • Th gansters and crooks

        Very well said. NSA has been also collecting metadata since 1952 and people were not aware of that. What really makes me sick is that while all of that was going on since 1952 - before Water Gate - Nixon was forced to resigned because of the wire tapping done in the Water Gate building (Democrat's Headquarters I believe). That shows people how disgusting our government has been all alone behind people' backs. This is worst than communism!
        Cicuta2011
        • Again?

          We heard you the first time. Let it go.
          JJJoseph
  • LOL The Fox OKs raid on hen house

    Under cover of natural selection. Or stink rolls down hill. Stay thirsty my friend.
    greywolf7
  • But, but....

    Mr. Obama PROMISED us transparency!!!!
    Hallowed are the Ori
  • We need a class action by state Attorneys General.

    They need to file it in a federal district court, where the public can see what's going on. The legal principles and issues are not "national security secrets" and can be discussed and decided in an open court without disclosing specific intelligence gathering targets or details of programs.

    Under our federal system the states only gave the federal government LIMITED powers. Those powers the states did not give to the federal government or reserve specifically for the people, THE STATES KEPT.

    State governments have the legal authority to protect their STATE citizens from unconstitutional intrusion EVEN BY the FEDERAL government. Attorneys General have "legal standing" to sue the federal government to do so. ("Legal standing" requires a "special interest" different from the interest of each member of the general public. If everyone is equally affected, no one has legal standing. Otherwise, every person in the entire country could file their own lawsuit over the same issue.)
    Rick_R
    • Here's where the left and the right agree.

      Just as the Civil War established that the federal government has the power to protect CITIZENS of each state from oppression BY the state (i.e. slavery and Jim Crow), so the state governments collectively have the power to protect THEIR citizens from oppression by the Feds. Of course this applies only when, as in this case, the Feds are breaking the US Constitution. The final decision still rests with SCOTUS, but at least state AG's are able to initiate the case.
      jallan32
      • Oppressed by?

        Give it a rest! You're not being oppressed by anybody when the NSA is spying on Islamic Jihad. Grow up, already.
        JJJoseph
        • If people are reading my personal communications

          without my explicit consent, it may not be oppression but it sure seems like tyranny. Tyrants dump on their people because they have no reason not to. Our government is supposed to be accountable to the people--but with the lotus-eating folks we now have comprising the majority, it's surprising that we don't have a true dictator instead of a wannabe.
          Iman Oldgeek
      • Wrong.

        The final decision rests with the peoples' right to revolt.
        Iman Oldgeek