The House Committee on the Judiciary
Oversight Hearing on
The Administration’s Use of FISA Authorities
July 17, 2013
Jameel Jaffer* & Laura W. Murphy**
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its hundreds of thousands of members, and its fifty-three affiliates nationwide, thank you for inviting the ACLU to testify before the Committee.
Over the last six weeks it has become clear that the National Security Agency (NSA) is engaged in far-reaching, intrusive, and unlawful surveillance of Americans’ telephone calls and electronic communications. That the NSA is engaged in this surveillance is the result of many factors. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) affords the government sweeping power to monitor the communications of innocent people. Excessive secrecy has made congressional oversight difficult and public oversight impossible. Intelligence officials have repeatedly misled the public, Congress, and the courts about the nature and scope of the government’s surveillance activities. Structural features of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) have prevented that court from serving as an effective guardian of individual rights. And the ordinary federal courts have improperly used procedural doctrines to place the NSA’s activities beyond the reach of the Constitution.
To say that the NSA’s activities present a grave danger to American democracy is no overstatement. Thirty-seven years ago, after conducting a comprehensive investigation into the intelligence abuses of the previous decades, the Church Committee warned that inadequate regulations on government surveillance “threaten[ed] to undermine our democratic society and fundamentally alter its nature.” This warning should have even more resonance today, because in recent decades the NSA’s resources have grown, statutory and constitutional limitations have been steadily eroded, and the technology of surveillance has become exponentially more powerful.
Because the problem Congress confronts today has many roots, there is no single solution to it. It is crucial, however, that Congress take certain steps immediately. It should amend relevant provisions of FISA to prohibit suspicionless, “dragnet” monitoring or tracking of Americans’ communications. It should require the publication of past and future FISC opinions insofar as they evaluate the meaning, scope, or constitutionality of the foreign-intelligence laws. It should ensure that the public has access to basic information, including statistical information, about the government’s use of new surveillance authorities. It should also hold additional hearings to consider further amendments to FISA—including amendments to make FISC proceedings more transparent.
I. Metadata Surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act
On June 5, 2013, The Guardian disclosed a previously secret FISC order that compels a Verizon subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services (VBNS), to supply the government with records relating to every phone call placed on its network between April 25, 2013 and July 19, 2013.1 The order directs VBNS to produce to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis . . . all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’” relating its customers’ calls, including those “wholly within the United States.”2 As many have noted, the order is breathtaking in its scope. It is as if the government had seized every American’s address book—with annotations detailing which contacts she spoke to, when she spoke with them, for how long, and (possibly) from which locations.
News reports since the disclosure of the VBNS order indicate that the mass acquisition of Americans’ call details extends beyond customers of VBNS, encompassing subscribers of the country’s three largest phone companies: Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.3 Members of the congressional intelligence committees have confirmed that the order issued to VBNS is part of a broader program under which the government has been collecting the telephone records of essentially all Americans for at least seven years.4
A. The metadata program is not authorized by statute
The metadata program has been implemented under Section 215 of the Patriot Act—sometimes referred to as FISA’s “business records” provision—but this provision does not permit the government to track all Americans’ phone calls, let alone over a period of seven years.
As originally enacted in 1998, FISA’s business records provision permitted the FBI to compel the production of certain business records in foreign intelligence or international terrorism investigations by making an application to the FISC. See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1861-62 (2000 ed.). Only four types of records could be sought under the statute: records from common carriers, public accommodation facilities, storage facilities, and vehicle rental facilities. 50 U.S.C. § 1862 (2000 ed.). Moreover, the FISC could issue an order only if the application contained “specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain[ed] [was] a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” Id.
The business records power was considerably expanded by the Patriot Act.5 Section 215 of that Act, now codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1861, permitted the FBI to make an application to the FISC for an order requiring
the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities . . . .
50 U.S.C. § 1861(a)(1) (emphasis added).
No longer limited to four discrete categories of business records, the new law authorized the FBI to seek the production of “any tangible things.” Id. It also authorized the FBI to obtain orders without demonstrating reason to believe that the target was a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Instead, it permitted the government to obtain orders where tangible things were “sought for” an authorized investigation. P.L. 107-56, § 215. This language was further amended by the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, P.L. 109-177, § 106(b). Under the current version of the business records provision, the FBI must provide “a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant” to a foreign intelligence, international terrorism, or espionage investigation. 50 U.S.C. § 1861(b)(2)(A) (emphasis added).6
While the Patriot Act considerably expanded the government’s surveillance authority, Section 215 does not authorize the metadata program. First, whatever “relevance” might allow, it does not permit the government to cast a seven-year dragnet over the records of every phone call made or received by any American. Indeed, to say that Section 215 authorizes this surveillance is to deprive the word “relevance” of any meaning. The government’s theory appears to be that some of the information swept up in the dragnet might become relevant to “an authorized investigation” at some point in the future. The statute, however, does not permit the government to collect information on this basis. Cf. Jim Sensenbrenner, This Abuse of the Patriot Act Must End, Guardian, June 9, 2013, http://bit.ly/18iDA3x (“[B]ased on the scope of the released order, both the administration and the FISA court are relying on an unbounded interpretation of the act that Congress never intended.”). The statute requires the government to show a connection between the records it seeks and some specific, existing investigation.
Indeed, the changes that Congress made to the statute in 2006 were meant to ensure that the government did not exploit ambiguity in the statute’s language to justify the collection of sensitive information not actually connected to some authorized investigation. As Senator Jon Kyl put it in 2006, “We all know the term ‘relevance.’ It is a term that every court uses. The relevance standard is exactly the standard employed for the issuance of discovery orders in civil litigation, grand jury subpoenas in a criminal investigation.”7
As Congress recognized in 2006, relevance is a familiar standard in our legal system. It has never been afforded the limitless scope that the executive branch is affording it now. Indeed, in the past, courts have carefully policed the outer perimeter of “relevance” to ensure that demands for information are not unbounded fishing expeditions. See, e.g., In re Horowitz, 482 F.2d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 1973) (“What is more troubling is the matter of relevance. The [grand jury] subpoena requires production of all documents contained in the files, without any attempt to define classes of potentially relevant documents or any limitations as to subject matter or time period.”).8 The information collected by the government under the metadata program goes far beyond anything a court has ever allowed under the rubric of “relevance.”9
B. The metadata program is unconstitutional
President Obama and intelligence officials have been at pains to emphasize that the government is collecting metadata, not content. The suggestion that metadata is somehow beyond the reach of the Constitution, however, is not correct. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the crucial question is not whether the government is collecting content or metadata but whether it is invading reasonable expectations of privacy. In the case of bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, it clearly is.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), is instructive. In that case, a unanimous Court held that long-term surveillance of an individual’s location constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Justices reached this conclusion for different reasons, but at least five Justices were of the view that the surveillance infringed on a reasonable expectation of privacy. Justice Sotomayor observed that tracking an individual’s movements over an extended period allows the government to generate a “precise, comprehensive record” that reflects “a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.” Id. (Sotomayor, J., concurring).
The same can be said of the tracking now taking place under Section 215. Call records can reveal personal relationships, medical issues, and political and religious affiliations. Internet metadata may be even more revealing, allowing the government to learn which websites a person visits, precisely which articles she reads, whom she corresponds with, and whom those people correspond with.
The long-term surveillance of metadata constitutes a search for the same reasons that the long-term surveillance of location was found to constitute a search in Jones. In fact, the surveillance held unconstitutional in Jones was narrower and shallower than the surveillance now taking place under Section 215. The location tracking in Jones was meant to further a specific criminal investigation into a specific crime, and the government collected information about one person’s location over a period of less than a month. What the government has implemented under Section 215 is an indiscriminate program that has already swept up the communications of millions of people over a period of seven years.
Some have defended the metadata program by reference to the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), which upheld the installation of a pen register in a criminal investigation. The pen register in Smith, however, was very primitive—it tracked the numbers being dialed, but it didn’t indicate which calls were completed, let alone the duration of the calls. Moreover, the surveillance was directed at a single criminal suspect over a period of less than two days. The police were not casting a net over the whole country.
Another argument that has been offered in defense of the metadata program is that, though the NSA collects an immense amount of information, it examines only a tiny fraction of it. But the Fourth Amendment is triggered by the collection of information, not simply by the querying of it. The NSA cannot insulate this program from Fourth Amendment scrutiny simply by promising that Americans’ private information will be safe in its hands. The Fourth Amendment exists to prevent the government from acquiring Americans’ private papers and communications in the first place.
Because the metadata program vacuums up sensitive information about associational and expressive activity, it is also unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has recognized that the government’s surveillance and investigatory activities have an acute potential to stifle association and expression protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g., United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972). As a result of this danger, courts have subjected investigatory practices to “exacting scrutiny” where they substantially burden First Amendment rights. See, e.g., Clark v. Library of Congress, 750 F.2d 89, 94 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (FBI field investigation); In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 776 F.2d 1099, 1102-03 (2d Cir. 1985) (grand jury subpoena). The metadata program cannot survive this scrutiny. This is particularly so because all available evidence suggests that the program is far broader than necessary to achieve the government’s legitimate goals. See, e.g., Press Release, Wyden, Udall Question the Value and Efficacy of Phone Records Collection in Stopping Attacks, June 7, 2013, http://1.usa.gov/19Q1Ng1 (“As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does.”).
C. Congress should amend Section 215 to prohibit suspicionless, dragnet collection of “tangible things”
As explained above, the metadata program is neither authorized by statute nor constitutional. As the government and FISC have apparently found to the contrary, however, the best way for Congress to protect Americans’ privacy is to narrow the statute’s scope. The ACLU urges Congress to amend Section 215 to provide that the government may compel the production of records under the provision only where there is a close connection between the records sought and a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Several bipartisan bills now in the House and Senate should be considered by this Committee and Congress at large. The LIBERT-E Act, H.R. 2399, 113th Cong. (2013), sponsored by Ranking Member Conyers, Rep. Justin Amash, and forty others, would tighten the relevance requirement, mandating that the government supply “specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant and material,” and that the records sought “pertain only to an individual that is the subject of such investigation.” A bill sponsored by Senators Udall and Wyden would similarly tighten the required connection between the government’s demand for records and a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Congress could also consider simply restoring some of the language that was deleted by the Patriot Act—in particular, the language that required the government to show “specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain[ed] [was] a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.”
II. Electronic Surveillance under Section 702 of FISA
The metadata program is only one part of the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities. Recent disclosures show that the NSA is also engaged in large-scale monitoring of Americans’ electronic communications under Section 702 of FISA, which codifies the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.10 Under this program, labeled “PRISM” in NSA documents, the government collects emails, audio and video chats, photographs, and other internet traffic from nine major service providers—Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.11 The Director of National Intelligence has acknowledged the existence of the PRISM program but stated that it involves surveillance of foreigners outside the United States. 12 This is misleading. The PRISM program involves the collection of Americans’ communications, both international and domestic, and for reasons explained below, the program is unconstitutional.
A. Section 702 is unconstitutional
President Bush signed the FISA Amendments Act into law on July 10, 2008.13 While leaving FISA in place for purely domestic communications, the FISA Amendments Act revolutionized the FISA regime by permitting the mass acquisition, without individualized judicial oversight or supervision, of Americans’ international communications. Under the FISA Amendments Act, the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence (“DNI”) can “authorize jointly, for a period of up to 1 year . . . the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” 50 U.S.C. 1881a(a). The government is prohibited from “intentionally target[ing] any person known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States,” id. § 1881a(b)(1), but an acquisition authorized under the FISA Amendments Act may nonetheless sweep up the international communications of U.S. citizens and residents.
Before authorizing surveillance under Section 702—or, in some circumstances, within seven days of authorizing such surveillance—the Attorney General and the DNI must submit to the FISA Court an application for an order (hereinafter, a “mass acquisition order”). Id. § 1881a(a), (c)(2). A mass acquisition order is a kind of blank check, which once obtained permits—without further judicial authorization—whatever surveillance the government may choose to engage in, within broadly drawn parameters, for a period of up to one year.
To obtain a mass acquisition order, the Attorney General and DNI must provide to the FISA Court “a written certification and any supporting affidavit” attesting that the FISA Court has approved, or that the government has submitted to the FISA Court for approval, “targeting procedures” reasonably designed to ensure that the acquisition is “limited to targeting persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,” and to “prevent the intentional acquisition of any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States.” Id. § 1881a(g)(2)(A)(i).
The certification and supporting affidavit must also attest that the FISA Court has approved, or that the government has submitted to the FISA Court for approval, “minimization procedures” that meet the requirements of 50 U.S.C. § 1801(h) or § 1821(4).
Finally, the certification and supporting affidavit must attest that the Attorney General has adopted “guidelines” to ensure compliance with the limitations set out in § 1881a(b); that the targeting procedures, minimization procedures, and guidelines are consistent with the Fourth Amendment; and that “a significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information.” Id. § 1881a(g)(2)(A)(iii)–(vii).
Importantly, Section 702 does not require the government to demonstrate to the FISA Court that its surveillance targets are foreign agents, engaged in criminal activity, or connected even remotely with terrorism. Indeed, the statute does not require the government to identify its surveillance targets at all. Moreover, the statute expressly provides that the government’s certification is not required to identify the facilities, telephone lines, email addresses, places, premises, or property at which its surveillance will be directed. Id. § 1881a(g)(4).
Nor does Section 702 place meaningful limits on the government’s retention, analysis, and dissemination of information that relates to U.S. citizens and residents. The Act requires the government to adopt “minimization procedures,” id. § 1881a, that are “reasonably designed . . . to minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons,” id. §§ 1801(h)(1), 1821(4)(A). The Act does not, however, prescribe specific minimization procedures. Moreover, the FISA Amendments Act specifically allows the government to retain and disseminate information—including information relating to U.S. citizens and residents—if the government concludes that it is “foreign intelligence information.” Id. § 1881a(e) (referring to id. §§ 1801(h)(1), 1821(4)(A)). The phrase “foreign intelligence information” is defined broadly to include, among other things, all information concerning terrorism, national security, and foreign affairs. Id. § 1801(e).
As the FISA Court has itself acknowledged, its role in authorizing and supervising surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act is “narrowly circumscribed.”14 The judiciary’s traditional role under the Fourth Amendment is to serve as a gatekeeper for particular acts of surveillance, but its role under the FISA Amendments Act is to issue advisory opinions blessing in advance broad parameters and targeting procedures, under which the government is then free to conduct surveillance for up to one year. Under Section 702, the FISA Court does not consider individualized and particularized surveillance applications, does not make individualized probable cause determinations, and does not closely supervise the implementation of the government’s targeting or minimization procedures. In short, the role that the FISA Court plays under the FISA Amendments Act bears no resemblance to the role that it has traditionally played under FISA.
The ACLU has long expressed deep concerns about the lawfulness of the FISA Amendments Act and surveillance under Section 702.15 The statute’s defects include:
- ·Section 702 allows the government to collect Americans’ international communications without requiring it to specify the people, facilities, places, premises, or property to be monitored
Until Congress enacted the FISA Amendments Act, FISA generally prohibited the government from conducting electronic surveillance without first obtaining an individualized and particularized order from the FISA court. In order to obtain a court order, the government was required to show that there was probable cause to believe that its surveillance target was an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group. It was also generally required to identify the facilities to be monitored. The FISA Amendments Act allows the government to conduct electronic surveillance without indicating to the FISA Court whom it intends to target or which facilities it intends to monitor, and without making any showing to the court—or even making an internal executive determination—that the target is a foreign agent or engaged in terrorism. The target could be a human rights activist, a media organization, a geographic region, or even a country. The government must assure the FISA Court that the targets are non-U.S. persons overseas, but in allowing the executive to target such persons overseas, Section 702 allows it to monitor communications between those targets and U.S. persons inside the United States. Moreover, because the FISA Amendments Act does not require the government to identify the specific targets and facilities to be surveilled, it permits the acquisition of these communications en masse. A single acquisition order may be used to justify the surveillance of communications implicating thousands or even millions of U.S. citizens and residents.
- · Section 702 allows the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without meaningful judicial oversight.
Under Section 702, the government is authorized to conduct intrusive surveillance without meaningful judicial oversight. The FISA Court does not review individualized surveillance applications. It does not consider whether the government’s surveillance is directed at agents of foreign powers or terrorist groups. It does not have the right to ask the government why it is initiating any particular surveillance program. The FISA Court’s role is limited to reviewing the government’s “targeting” and “minimization” procedures. And even with respect to the procedures, the FISA court’s role is to review the procedures at the outset of any new surveillance program; it does not have the authority to supervise the implementation of those procedures over time.
- ·Section 702 places no meaningful limits on the government’s retention and dissemination of information relating to U.S. citizens and residents.
As a result of the FISA Amendments Act, thousands or even millions of U.S. citizens and residents will find their international telephone and email communications swept up in surveillance that is “targeted” at people abroad. Yet the law fails to place any meaningful limitations on the government’s retention and dissemination of information that relates to U.S. persons. The law requires the government to adopt “minimization” procedures—procedures that are “reasonably designed . . . to minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons.” However, these minimization procedures must accommodate the government’s need “to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.” In other words, the government may retain or disseminate information about U.S. citizens and residents so long as the information is “foreign intelligence information.” Because “foreign intelligence information” is defined broadly (as discussed below), this is an exception that swallows the rule.
- ·Section 702 does not limit government surveillance to communications relating to terrorism.
The Act allows the government to conduct dragnet surveillance if a significant purpose of the surveillance is to gather “foreign intelligence information.” There are multiple problems with this. First, under the new law the “foreign intelligence” requirement applies to entire surveillance programs, not to individual intercepts. The result is that if a significant purpose of any particular government dragnet is to gather foreign intelligence information, the government can use that dragnet to collect all kinds of communications—not only those that relate to foreign intelligence. Second, the phrase “foreign intelligence information” has always been defined extremely broadly to include not only information about terrorism but also information about intelligence activities, the national defense, and even the “foreign affairs of the United States.” Journalists, human rights researchers, academics, and attorneys routinely exchange information by telephone and email that relates to the foreign affairs of the U.S.
B. The NSA’s “targeting” and “minimization” procedures do not mitigate the statute’s constitutional deficiencies.
Since the FISA Amendments Act was enacted in 2008, the government’s principal defense of the law has been that “targeting” and “minimization” procedures supply sufficient protection for Americans’ privacy. Because the procedures were secret, the government’s assertion was impossible to evaluate. Now that the procedures have been published, however,16 it is plain that the assertion is false. Indeed, the procedures confirm what critics have long suspected—that the NSA is engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of Americans’ communications, including their telephone calls and emails. The documents show that the NSA is conducting sweeping surveillance of Americans’ international communications, that it is acquiring many purely domestic communications as well, and that the rules that supposedly protect Americans’ privacy are weak and riddled with exceptions.
- ·The NSA’s procedures permit it to monitor Americans’ international communications in the course of surveillance targeted at foreigners abroad.
While the FISA Amendments Act authorizes the government to target foreigners abroad, not Americans, it permits the government to collect Americans’ communications with those foreign targets. The recently disclosed procedures contemplate not only that the NSA will acquire Americans’ international communications but that it will retain them and possibly disseminate them to other U.S. government agencies and foreign governments. Americans’ communications that contain “foreign intelligence information” or evidence of a crime can be retained forever, and even communications that don’t can be retained for as long as five years. Despite government officials’ claims to the contrary, the NSA is building a growing database of Americans’ international telephone calls and emails.
- ·The NSA’s procedures allow the surveillance of Americans by failing to ensure that the its surveillance targets are in fact foreigners outside the United States.
The FISA Amendments Act is predicated on the theory that foreigners abroad have no right to privacy—or, at any rate, no right that the United States should respect. Because they have no right to privacy, the NSA sees no bar to the collection of their communications, including their communications with Americans. But even if one accepts this premise, the NSA’s procedures fail to ensure that its surveillance targets are in fact foreigners outside the United States. This is because the procedures permit the NSA to presume that prospective surveillance targets are foreigners outside the United States absent specific information to the contrary—and to presume therefore that they are fair game for warrantless surveillance.
- ·The NSA’s procedures permit the government to conduct surveillance that has no real connection to the government’s foreign intelligence interests.
One of the fundamental problems with Section 702 is that it permits the government to conduct surveillance without probable cause or individualized suspicion. It permits the government to monitor people who are not even thought to be doing anything wrong, and to do so without particularized warrants or meaningful review by impartial judges. Government officials have placed heavy emphasis on the fact that the FISA Amendments Act allows the government to conduct surveillance only if one of its purposes is to gather “foreign intelligence information.” As noted above, however, that term is defined very broadly to include not only information about terrorism but also information about intelligence activities, the national defense, and even “the foreign affairs of the United States.” The NSA’s procedures weaken the limitation further. Among the things the NSA examines to determine whether a particular email address or phone number will be used to exchange foreign intelligence information is whether it has been used in the past to communicate with foreigners. Another is whether it is listed in a foreigner’s address book. In other words, the NSA appears to equate a propensity to communicate with foreigners with a propensity to communicate foreign intelligence information. The effect is to bring virtually every international communication within the reach of the NSA’s surveillance.
- ·The NSA’s procedures permit the NSA to collect international communications, including Americans’ international communications, in bulk.
On its face, Section 702 permits the NSA to conduct dragnet surveillance, not just surveillance of specific individuals. Officials who advocated for the FISA Amendments Act made clear that this was one of its principal purposes, and unsurprisingly, the procedures give effect to that design. While they require the government to identify a “target” outside the country, once the target has been identified the procedures permit the NSA to sweep up the communications of any foreigner who may be communicating “about” the target. The Procedures contemplate that the NSA will do this by “employ[ing] an Internet Protocol filter to ensure that the person from whom it seeks to obtain foreign intelligence information is located overseas,” by “target[ing] Internet links that terminate in a foreign country,” or by identifying “the country code of the telephone number.” However the NSA does it, the result is the same: millions of communications may be swept up, Americans’ international communications among them.
- ·The NSA’s procedures allow the NSA to retain even purely domestic communications.
Given the permissive standards the NSA uses to determine whether prospective surveillance targets are foreigners abroad, errors are inevitable. Some of the communications the NSA collects under the Act, then, will be purely domestic.17 The Act should require the NSA to purge these communications from its databases, but it does not. The procedures allow the government to keep and analyze even purely domestic communications if they contain significant foreign intelligence information, evidence of a crime, or encrypted information. Again, foreign intelligence information is defined exceedingly broadly.
- · The NSA’s procedures allow the government to collect and retain communications protected by the attorney-client privilege.
The procedures expressly contemplate that the NSA will collect attorney-client communications. In general, these communications receive no special protection—they can be acquired, retained, and disseminated like any other. Thus, if the NSA acquires the communications of lawyers representing individuals who have been charged before the military commissions at Guantanamo, nothing in the procedures would seem to prohibit the NSA from sharing the communications with military prosecutors. The procedures include a more restrictive rule for communications between attorneys and their clients who have been criminally indicted in the United States—the NSA may not share these communications with prosecutors. Even those communications, however, may be retained to the extent that they include foreign intelligence information.
C. Congress should amend Section 702 to prohibit suspicionless, dragnet collection of Americans’ communications.
For the reasons discussed above, the ACLU believes that the FISA Amendments Act is unconstitutional on its face. There are many ways, however, that Congress could provide meaningful protection for privacy while preserving the statute’s broad outline. One bill introduced by Senator Wyden during the reauthorization debate last fall would have prohibited the government from searching through information collected under the FISA Amendments Act for the communications of specific, known U.S. persons. Bills submitted during the debate leading up to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 would have banned dragnet collection in the first instance or required the government to return to the FISC before searching communications obtained through the FISA Amendments Act for information about U.S. persons. Congress should examine these proposals again and make amendments to the Act that would provide greater protection for individual privacy and mitigate the chilling effect on rights protected by the First Amendment.
III. Excessive Secrecy Surrounds the Government’s use of FISA authorities.
Amendments to FISA since 2001 have substantially expanded the government’s surveillance authorities, but the public lacks crucial information about the way these authorities have been implemented. Rank-and-file members of Congress and the public have learned more about domestic surveillance in last two months than in the last several decades combined. While the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have received some information in classified format, only members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, party leadership, and a handful of Judiciary Committee members have staff with clearance high enough to access the information and advise their principals. Although the Inspectors General and others file regular reports with the Committees of jurisdiction, these reports do not include even basic information such how many Americans’ communications are swept up in these programs, or how and when Americans’ information is accessed and used.
Nor does the public have access to the FISC decisions that assess the meaning, scope, and constitutionality of the surveillance laws. Aggregate statistics alone would not allow the public to understand the reach of the government’s surveillance powers; as we have seen with Section 215, one application may encompass millions of individual records. Public access to the FISA Court’s substantive legal reasoning is essential. Without it, some of the government’s most far-reaching policies will lack democratic legitimacy. Instead, the public will be dependent on the discretionary disclosures of executive branch officials—disclosures that have sometimes been self-serving and misleading in the past.18 Needless to say, it may be impossible to release FISC opinions without redacting passages concerning the NSA’s sources and methods. The release of redacted opinions, however, would be far better than the release of nothing at all.
Congress should require the release of FISC opinions concerning the scope, meaning, or constitutionality of FISA, including opinions relating to Section 215 and Section 702. Administration officials have said there are over a dozen such opinions, some close to one hundred pages long.19 Executive officials testified before Congress several years ago that declassification review was already underway,20 and President Obama directed the DNI to revisit that process in the last few weeks. If the administration refuses to release these opinions, Congress should consider legislation compelling their release. Possible vehicles include the LIBERT-E Act, cited above, or the Ending Secret Law Act, H.R. 2475, 113th Cong. (2013), a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff, Todd Rokita, and sixteen other members of the House.
Congress should also require the release of information about the type and volume of information that is obtained under dragnet surveillance programs. The leaked Verizon order confirms that the government is using Section 215 to collect telephony metadata about every phone call made by VBNS subscribers in the United States. That the government is using Section 215 for this purpose raises the question of what other “tangible things” the government may be collecting through similar dragnets. For reasons discussed above, the ACLU believes that these dragnets are unauthorized by the statute as well as unconstitutional. Whatever their legality, however, the public has a right to know, at least in general terms, what kinds of information the government is collecting about innocent Americans, and on what scale.
IV. Summary of Recommendations
As discussed above, the ACLU urges Congress to:
- ·Amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of FISA to prohibit suspicionless, “dragnet” monitoring or tracking of Americans’ communications.
- ·Require the publication of past and future FISC opinions insofar as they evaluate the meaning, scope, or constitutionality of the foreign-intelligence laws.
- ·Require the publication of information about the type and volume of information that the government obtains under dragnet surveillance programs.
- ·Hold additional hearings to consider further amendments to FISA—including amendments to make FISC proceedings more transparent.
Thank you for this opportunity to present the ACLU’s views.
1 See Glenn Greenwald, NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily, Guardian, June 5, 2013, http://bit.ly/13jsdlb.
2 Secondary Order, In Re Application of the FBI for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things from Verizon Bus. Network Servs., Inc. on Behalf of MCI Commc’n Servs., Inc. d/b/a Verizon Bus. Servs., No. BR 13-80 at 2 (FISA Ct. Apr. 25, 2013), available at http://bit.ly/11FY393.
3 See Siobhan Gorman et al., U.S. Collects Vast Data Trove, Wall St. J., June 7, 2013, http://on.wsj.com/11uD0ue (“The arrangement with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, the country’s three largest phone companies means, that every time the majority of Americans makes a call, NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter. . . . AT&T has 107.3 million wireless customers and 31.2 million landline customers. Verizon has 98.9 million wireless customers and 22.2 million landline customers while Sprint has 55 million customers in total.”); Siobhan Gorman & Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Government Is Tracking Verizon Customers’ Records, Wall St. J., June 6, 2013, http://on.wsj.com/13mLm7c.
In the days following The Guardian’s disclosure of the Verizon order, officials revealed other details about the government’s surveillance under Section 215. See James R. Clapper, DNI Statement on Recent Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (June 6, 2013), http://1.usa.gov/13jwuFc. The DNI stated, for example, that “the [FISC] only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.”
4 Dan Roberts & Spencer Ackerman, Senator Feinstein: NSA Phone Call Data Collection in Place ‘Since 2006,’ Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://bit.ly/13rfxdu; id. (Senator Saxby Chambliss: “This has been going on for seven years.”).
5 For ease of reference, this testimony uses “business records provision” to refer to the current version of the law as well as to earlier versions, even though the current version of the law allows the FBI to compel the production of much more than business records, as discussed below.
6 Records are presumptively relevant if they pertain to (1) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or (3) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation. This relaxed standard is a significant departure from the original threshold, which, as noted above, required an individualized inquiry.
7 Jennifer Valentino-Devries & Siobhan Gorman, Secret Court’s Redefinition of ‘Relevant’ Empowered Vast NSA Data-Gathering, Wall St. J., July 8, 2013, http://on.wsj.com/13x8QKU.
8 See also Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 76-77 (1906).
9 The metadata program also violates Section 215 because the statute does not authorize the prospective acquisition of business records. The text of the statute contemplates “release” of “tangible things” that can be “fairly identified,” and “allow[s] a reasonable time” for providers to “assemble” those things. 50 U.S.C. § 1861(c)(1)-(2). These terms suggest that Section 215 reaches only business records already in existence.
10 Barton Gellman & Laura Poitras, U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data From Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program, Wash. Post, June 7, 2013, http://wapo.st/1888aNr.
11 While news reports have generally described PRISM as an NSA “program,” the publicly available documents leave open the possibility that PRISM is instead the name of the NSA database in which content collected from these providers is stored.
12 James R. Clapper, DNI Statement on Activities Authorized Under Section 702 of FISA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (June 6, 2013), http://1.usa.gov/13JJdBE; see also James R. Clapper, DNI Statement on the Collection of Intelligence Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (June 8, 2013), http://1.usa.gov/10YY4tp.
13 A description of electronic surveillance prior to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act, including the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush beginning in 2001, is available in Mr. Jaffer’s earlier testimony to the Committee. See The FISA Amendments Act of 2008: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 112th Cong. (May 31, 2012) (written testimony of Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation), available at http://bit.ly/14Q61Bs.
14 In re Proceedings Required by § 702(i) of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, No. Misc. 08-01, slip op. at 3 (FISA Ct. Aug. 27, 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted), available at http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fisa/fisc082708.pdf.
15 The ACLU raised many of these defects in a constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act filed just hours after the Act was signed into law in 2008. The case, Amnesty v. Clapper, was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose work requires them to engage in sensitive and sometimes privileged telephone and email communications with individuals located outside the United States. In a 5-4 ruling handed down on February 26, 2013, the Supreme Court held that the ACLU’s plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Act because they could not show, at the outset, that their communications had been monitored by the government. See Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013). The Court did not reach the merits of plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge.
16 See Glenn Greenwald & James Ball, The Top Secret Rules that Allow NSA to Use US Data Without a Warrant, Guardian, June 20, 2013, http://bit.ly/105qb9B.
17 Notably, a 2009 New York Times article discusses an episode in which the NSA used the Act to engage in “significant and systemic” overcollection of such domestic communications. Eric Lichtblau & James Risen, Officials Say U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law, N.Y. Times, April 15, 2009, http://nyti.ms/16AIq5O.
18 See, e.g., Glenn Kessler, James Clapper’s ‘Least Untruthful’ Statement to the Senate, Wash. Post, June 12, 2013, http://wapo.st/170VVSu.
19 See Eric Lichtblau, In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A., N.Y. Times, July 6, 2013, http://nyti.ms/12beiA3.
20 Prehearing Questions for Lisa O. Monaco Upon Her Nomination to be the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Sen. Select Comm. on Intelligence, 112th Cong., at 12-13, available at http://bit.ly/10V5Ion.
* Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation
** Director, Washington Legislative Office, American Civil Liberties Union