White House co-hosts MIT workshop as part of project on ‘collecting, analyzing, and using’ big data.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (C) shares a laugh with John Podesta (R) and Douglas Holtz-Eakin at the Center for American Progress in Washington, August 4, 2010.   REUTERS/Jim Young   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR2H1LC

White House co-hosts MIT workshop as part of project on ‘collecting, analyzing, and using’ big data

1:39 PM 02/24/2014
Patrick Howley

Political Reporter

The Obama White House is co-hosting a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) workshop on “big data” as part of an administration effort to analyze how to collect and use complex data for public policy.

It comes as little surprise that the White House is analyzing “big data” collection considering the effectiveness of the 2012 Obama campaign’s personality-tracking voter targeting database created through its “Project Dreamcatcher.” The information from that database is now held by Obama’s nonprofit advocacy group Organizing for Action.

White House counselor John Podesta, a left-wing operative who founded the Center for American Progress, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will represent the Obama administration at the March 3 workshop, “Big Data and Privacy: Advancing the State of the Art in Technology and Practice” with MIT president L. Rafael Reif.

Even though they got the word “privacy” in there, the White House project makes clear that it is focused on “collecting, analyzing, and using” data for policy purposes.

“Last month, the President asked Counselor John Podesta to lead a comprehensive review of how ‘big data’ – data sets so massive, diverse, or complex, that conventional technologies cannot adequately capture, store, or analyze them – will affect how Americans live and work. Senior administration officials have since begun to look at the implications of collecting, analyzing, and using such data for privacy, the economy, and public policy,” according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Additional workshops will be held at New York University and University of California-Berkeley.

MIT professor and Obama economic adviser Esther Duflo developed the theories that were employed to help build French Socialist president Francois Hollande’s successful voter-tracking database, which were then carried over to the Obama 2012 campaign.

NSA Weighs Retaining Data for Suits: Would Lead to Expansion of Controversial Phone Program

U.S. NEWS

NSA Weighs Retaining Data for Suits

Rule That Evidence Can’t Be Destroyed Would Lead to Expansion of Controversial Phone Program

  • By  DEVLIN BARRETT and  SIOBHAN GORMAN
Feb. 19, 2014 7:32 p.m. ET

Sen. Rand Paul, shown earlier this month, is one of a number of people suing the government to stop NSA surveillance of U.S. phone records. Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The government is considering enlarging the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of Americans’ phone records—an unintended consequence of lawsuits seeking to stop the surveillance program, according to officials.

A number of government lawyers involved in lawsuits over the NSA phone-records program believe federal-court rules on preserving evidence related to lawsuits require the agency to stop routinely destroying older phone records, according to people familiar with the discussions. As a result, the government would expand the database beyond its original intent, at least while the lawsuits are active.

No final decision has been made to preserve the data, officials said, and one official said that even if a decision is made to retain the information, it would be held only for the purpose of litigation and not be subject to searches. The government currently collects phone records on millions of Americans in a vast database that it can mine for links to terror suspects. The database includes records of who called whom, when they called and for how long.

President Barack Obama has ordered senior officials to end the government storage of such data and find another place to store the records—possibly with the phone companies who log the calls. Under the goals outlined by Mr. Obama last month, the government would still be able to search the call logs with a court order, but would no longer possess and control them.

National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander has said the program, if it had existed in 2001, would have uncovered the Sept. 11 plot. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have sued the government, saying the program violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

Patrick Toomey, an ACLU lawyer, said no one in the government has raised with his group the possibility the lawsuits may actually expand the database they call unconstitutional. “It’s difficult to understand why the government would consider taking this position, when the relief we’ve requested in the lawsuit is a purge of our data,” he said.

Cindy Cohn, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which also is suing over the program, said the government should save the phone records, as long as they aren’t still searchable under the program. “If they’re destroying evidence, that would be a crime,” she said.

Ms. Cohn also questioned why the government was only now considering this move, even though the EFF filed a lawsuit over NSA data collection in 2008.

In that case, a judge ordered evidence preserved related to claims brought by AT&T Inc.T +0.09% customers. What the government is considering now is far broader.

“I think they’re looking for any way to throw rocks at the litigation,” added Ms. Cohn. “To the extent this is a serious concern, we should have had this discussion in 2008.”

Another person who has filed a class-action suit over the program is Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). Mr. Paul’s lawyer, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, called the approach under consideration “just silly.” He said he was sure his clients would be happy to agree to the destruction of their phone records held by the government, without demanding those records in pretrial discovery.

Federal courts have ruled that defendants in lawsuits cannot destroy relevant evidence that could be useful to the other side. Generally, those involved in lawsuits are expected to preserve records, including electronic records, that could reasonably be considered relevant or likely to be requested as part of pretrial discovery.

As the NSA program currently works, the database holds about five years of data, according to officials and some declassified court opinions. About twice a year, any call record more than five years old is purged from the system, officials said.

A particular concern, according to one official, is that the older records may give certain parties legal standing to pursue their cases, and that deleting the data could erase evidence that the phone records of those individuals or groups were swept up in the data dragnet.

The phone records program is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and any move to keep data past the five-year period may require the blessing of that court.

If the records are retained, they may remain in government computers for some time, because it could take years to resolve the spate of litigation over the programs. A federal judge in New York has ruled the program is legal, while a Washington, D.C., judge has ruled it almost certainly isn’t. There are several other pending cases, and other lawsuits could yet be filed.

Government retention of old records has long been a major concern for civil-liberties groups. The ACLU, in particular, has argued the longer the government holds data about citizens, the deeper investigators can delve into the private lives of individuals, and errors or abuses become more likely.

Obama should share his legal justification for collecting Verizon’s phone records.

verizon spy blogShow Me the Memo:  Obama should share his legal justification for collecting Verizon’s phone records

BY JEFFREY ROSEN

The revelation by The Guardian that the Obama administration’s National Security Agency has been secretly collecting logs of domestic and international telephone calls from Verizon “on an ongoing daily basis” under the Patriot Act is the most disturbing misuse of the government surveillance authority since the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps, some of which were later authorized by Congress. But the Obama surveillance program, which may represent a continuation of the Bush program under different legal authority, has an even more disturbing antecedent: the abuse of government surveillance powers by the NSA, FBI, CIA, and IRS during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations that led to the Church commission.

The Church commission asked a central question—does the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures apply to domestic surveillance? In answering yes, Congress created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, in 1978 to supervise domestic eavesdropping by issuing secret warrants for specified items, such as the records of car-rental companies or storage facilities. But then came Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001, which broadened the scope of data for which secret warrant could be issued to include “any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents and other items).” In other words, the government could now seize anything in secret, and without notification to those being spied on. The only qualification was that the seized data had to be relevant to a terrorism investigation and “not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.”

The order authorizing the massive surveillance through Verizon was signed by Roger Vinson, a retired federal judge in Florida who in 2011 issued a sweeping opinion striking down the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration insists that its invocation of Section 215 is legal, but refuses to release the secret memorandum justifying its legal conclusion—just at it had earlier refused to release its legal memorandum justifying targeted drone killings, before changing its mind.

That 215 memorandum should be released so that Congress and American citizens can debate publicly whether or not this kind of blanket surveillance is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court has not ruled definitively on the question of warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance, and earlier this year made it harder to challenge foreign intelligence surveillance by finding that potential victims of surveillance had no standing to challenge it in court. One lower court allowed a constitutional challenge against Section 215 of the Patriot Act to proceed, but no court has ruled squarely on the question of the blanket surveillance that Verizon has allowed.

It’s clear at the very least that surveillance under the Patriot Act is being used far more broadly than Obama and Bush administration officials previously acknowledged. In May 2005, President Bush’s deputy attorney general, James Comey, who Obama is expected to nominate the FBI, gave the following testimony to Congress:

Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act allows the FBI to obtain an order from the FISA Court requesting production of any tangible thing, such as business records, if the items are relevant to an ongoing authorized national security investigation, which, in the case of a United States person, cannot be based solely upon activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Attorney General recently declassified the fact that the FISA Court has issued 35 orders requiring the production of tangible things under section 215 from the effective date of the Act through March 30th of this year. None of those orders were issued to libraries and/or booksellers, and none were for medical or gun records. The provision to date has been used only to order the production of driver’s license records, public accommodation records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and subscriber information, such as names and addresses, for telephone numbers captured through court-authorized pen register devices. Similar to a prosecutor in a criminal case issuing a grand jury subpoena for an item relevant to his investigation, so too may the FISA Court issue an order requiring the production of records or items that are relevant to an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

But we now know that the Bush and Obama administrations have used Section 215 in ways that make it look nothing like a grand jury subpoena for obtaining credit card or hotel information. Grand jury subpoenas are issued for a limited set of documents in a specific criminal investigation, launched on a showing of probable cause. Here, the telephone logs of millions of innocent Americans are being stored with no showing that they have done anything wrong. That’s why two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado), wrotelast year that Eric Holder: “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act.”

This week began with the Supreme Court upholding the power of government to seize the DNA of Americans on arrest. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a passionate dissentreminding Americans that “At the time of the Founding, Americans despised the British use of the so-called ‘general warrants’—warrants not grounded upon a sworn oath of a specific infraction by a particular individual, and thus note limited in scope and application.” The massive surveillance begun by the Bush administration and now justified by the Obama administration under the Patriot Act makes the intrusions of general warrants that concerned the Framers look tame. It’s time for a national debate about whether the Patriot Act, in fact, justifies this mass surveillance; and if so, whether that act is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. The only way to have that debate is for the Obama administration to release the legal analysis that it believes justifies its actions in the first place.

Jeffrey Rosen is the legal affairs editor of The New Republic.

This article has been corrected. It originally stated that Obama recently nominated James Comey to head the CIA. In fact, Obama is expected to nominate Comey to to be head of the FBI. 

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily

Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama

• Read the Verizon court order in full here
• Obama administration justifies surveillance

Under the terms of the order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data and the time and duration of all calls. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

verizon spy blog

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.

“We decline comment,” said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls”.

The order directs Verizon to “continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order”. It specifies that the records to be produced include “session identifying information”, such as “originating and terminating number”, the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and “comprehensive communication routing information”.

The information is classed as “metadata”, or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such “metadata” is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.

While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.

It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.

The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized.

Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: “We’ve certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of ‘relevance’ to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretense of constraint or particularized suspicion.” The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration’s extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance.

In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder last year, they argued that “there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”

“We believe,” they wrote, “that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted” the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act.

Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited “metadata” is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens’ communications activities. Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.

Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual’s network of associations and communication patterns. The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates that the agency is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorized by President Bush on 4 October 2001, implemented a bulk collection program of domestic telephone, internet and email records. A furore erupted in 2006 when USA Today reported that the NSA had “been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth” and was “using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.” Until now, there has been no indication that the Obama administration implemented a similar program.

These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA’s mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency’s focus on domestic activities.

In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.

At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: “The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.”

Additional reporting by Ewen MacAskill and Spencer Ackerman