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On January 17, 2014, the Director of National Intelligence authorized the declassification and public release of numerous orders approving the National Security Agency's ("NSA") so-called "Bulk Telephony Metadata Program" under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ("FISA"), commonly referred to as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Press release available here
Under the program, the NSA has collected records from large telecommunication companies about, apparently, virtually all domestic telephone calls. These records, termed "telephony metadata," include the phone numbers placed and received; the date, time and duration of calls; some location identifiers; and calling card numbers. The records, however, apparently do not include the parties' names, addresses or financial information or the call's content. Once collected, the records are stored for several years and may be queried, used, and disseminated only in accordance with "minimization rules" proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ("FISC"). The most basic aspect of the minimization rules has been that the metadata records can be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulated facts, that the identifier that will be used as the basis for the query is associated with specified foreign terrorist organizations.
The program began under executive authority alone, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Subsequently, in 2006, the federal government first sought approval of the program from the FISC under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. This Section 215 order must be reviewed and reapproved by the FISC essentially every 90 days. It has been approved dozens of times by many different federal judges, on the FISC, since its initial approval on May 24, 2006 by the FISC. (See BR 06-05, NS-DC-0009
in this Clearinghouse.)
This matter is a continuation of the Section 215 program from December 4, 2014, to February 27, 2015. On December 4, 2014, FISC Judge Michael W. Mosman issued the primary order authorizing the collection under specified procedures. The previous order was BR 14-125, NS-DC-0067
in this Clearinghouse. As usual, this order includes "minimization" procedures that impose a variety of limits on the NSA's use of the telephony metadata. The minimization procedures enumerated in this order are the same as those in the previous order, with one exception:
In a footnote, the FISC recognized that in cases involving an imminent threat to human life the NSA may bypass the technical controls it has implemented in order to conduct queries using RAS-approved seeds. Previous FISC orders acknowledged that the NSA's technical controls preclude any query for intelligence analysis purposes with a non-RAS-approved seed, but the orders omitted any mention of the exception for cases involving imminent threats.
The order in this matter was succeeded by BR 15-24, NS-DC-0070
in this Clearinghouse.Brian Tengel - 02/15/2015