Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from

Lawsuit Challenges NSA’s Bulk Phone Data Grab

A lawsuit disputes a new interpretation of the Patriot Act allowing routine, bulk collection of phone data by the NSA

  • July 16, 2013

A little over a month ago, leaked documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency collects records of every phone call made using Verizon’s service (see “A Broader Interpretation of the Patriot Act”). Today a diverse group of 19 organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greenpeace, and the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles filed a court challenge to the program (here’s a PDF of the documents).

The plaintiffs claim that:

“The bulk collection of telephone communications information without a valid, particularized warrant spported by probably cause violates the First, Fourth, Fifth Amendments, as well as statutory prohibitions and limitations on electronic surveillance.”

The program being challenged was revealed by a court order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court leaked to British newspaper the Guardian. The order used a section of the Patriot Act to require Verizon to hand over all records of calls to the NSA “on an ongoing basis.”

Section 215 of the Patriot Act had been previously interpreted as allowing demands only for specific, existing data with good reason. A statement last month from director of national intelligence James Clapper indicated that intelligence agencies now think it allowable to collect data in bulk in advance because until data is actually queried by an agent it hasn’t really been accessed. Specific records amongst those vacuumed up in this way, said Clapper, would only be “queried when there is a reasonable suspicion.”

This approach concerns many civil rights campaigners, because, as Cato Institute research fellow Julian Sanchez told me last month, allowing indiscriminate data collection provides “a lot more potential for abuse.” The order served to Verizon requires it hands over details of every call made, including the time, duration and other “identifying information”, which could include the location of a mobile handset. The order covered a period of three months, set to expire this week, but is believed to have been regularly reissued for some time.

In a statement released today, EFF legal director Cindy Cohn referred to a 1958 Supreme Court case that blocked the state of Alabama from subpoenaing membership lists from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Telephone records, especially complete records collected over many years, are even more invasive than membership lists, since they show casual or repeated inquiries as well as full membership.”

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.