Why The NSA And President Bush Got The FISA Court To Reinterpret The Law In Order To Collect Tons Of Data
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jun 17th 2013
Over the weekend, the Washington Post published yet another revelation about the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, including some details of various “code named” data collection projects like MAINWAY, MARINA and NUCLEON. NUCLEON is the program for intercepting telephone calls (the actual content), though that’s apparently limited. MAINWAY and MARINA are focused on all the data about communications (what everyone’s been referring to as metadata), but not the actual content.
But what struck me as most interesting about the report is that it reveals some of the details of why the FISA court reinterpreted a key part of the Patriot Act to allow the NSA to do bulk collection of data — contrary to its plain wording — and how that interpretation has been used by the government. We’ve discussed in the past that the telcos had a habit of voluntarily handing over a ton of information (i.e., nearly everything) to the government on no legal basis at all. However, when the NY Times broke the story back in 2006 about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping, the telcos freaked out. As was widely covered, that led to passing a law that gave the telcos retroactive immunity for breaking the law (which they did). However, apparently, the telcos (with the help of the administration) sought to have the FISA court reinterpret the patriot act such that the limitation on “relevant” business records in Section 215 would now mean “all of them.” The law was written such that the FISA court is only supposed to allow for the collection of “tangible” things (including records) if it can be shown to the court that the specific thing being collected is relevant to an investigation. The FISA Court apparently believes that means anything — and that’s the crux of the secret interpretation from the FISA Court which it and the DOJ have been refusing to reveal.