Guardian: US collected e-mail metadata until 2011

posted at 12:01 pm on June 27, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The latest scoop from the Guardian on American intelligence work seems more like a clarification than breaking news.  We knew about the NSA’s collection of telecom metadata as far back as 2006, although we didn’t know that FISA courts had continued to issue approvals for its continuance every 90 days during the Barack Obama administration.  The PRISM leaks strongly suggested that the NSA was surveilling Internet content at home as well as abroad, which still hasn’t been entirely clarified.  Discovering that FISA allowed the collection of Internet metadata until 2011 seems a bit of an anti-climax at this point:

The Obama administration for more than two years permitted the National Security Agency to continue collecting vast amounts of records detailing the email and internet usage of Americans, according to secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The documents indicate that under the program, launched in 2001, a federal judge sitting on the secret surveillance panel called the Fisa court would approve a bulk collection order for internet metadata ”every 90 days”. A senior administration official confirmed the program, stating that it ended in 2011.

The collection of these records began under the Bush administration’s wide-ranging warrantless surveillance program, collectively known by theNSA codename Stellar Wind.

According to a top-secret draft report by the NSA’s inspector general – published for the first time today by the Guardian – the agency began “collection of bulk internet metadata” involving “communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States”.

Eventually, the NSA gained authority to “analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States”, according to a 2007 Justice Department memo, which is marked secret.

This parallels what we knew about the telecom data as far back as 2006.  Back then, the NSA argued that they could surveil phone calls that had one point of contact outside the US (or both ends of the conversation outside the US, which few disputed).  While the Internet data wasn’t part of that debate, it’s not conceptually any different than the telecom metadata argument made back then.

The Obama administration told the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman that they discontinued that specific program of Internet metadata collection in 2011.  However, the NSA has replaced it with another, the reporters state, which again collects metadata on Internet traffic that involves at least one point of contact outside the US.  The article claims that the difference between metadata and content in the electronic-communication theater differs substantially from the telecom theater:

But email metadata is different. Customers’ data bills do not itemize online activity by detailing the addresses a customer emailed or the IP addresses from which customer devices accessed the internet.

Internal government documents describe how revealing these email records are. One 2008 document, signed by the US defense secretary and attorney general, states that the collection and subsequent analysis included “the information appearing on the ‘to,’ ‘from’ or ‘bcc’ lines of a standard email or other electronic communication” from Americans.

In reality, it is hard to distinguish email metadata from email content. Distinctions that might make sense for telephone conversations and data about those conversations do not always hold for online communications.

“The calls you make can reveal a lot, but now that so much of our lives are mediated by the internet, your IP [internet protocol] logs are really a real-time map of your brain: what are you reading about, what are you curious about, what personal ad are you responding to (with a dedicated email linked to that specific ad), what online discussions are you participating in, and how often?” said Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute.

“Seeing your IP logs – and especially feeding them through sophisticated analytic tools – is a way of getting inside your head that’s in many ways on par with reading your diary,” Sanchez added.

As in the earlier telecom metadata story, the collection of Internet metadata has been overseen by the FISA court.  This highlights the issues of whether the FISA court acts independently and needs more transparency and oversight, but we’re back to the same debate we had in 2006.  Does the NSA, which is supposed to restrict itself to surveilling foreign communications, have the authority to surveil communications that contain one locus within in US?  Congress addressed that in subsequent FISA legislation, and can change their collective mind about it if they see the need. This article adds to the scope and context of the issue, but doesn’t say much that hasn’t already been under debate.

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Snowden may be the worst person in the world, for all the good and bad reasons.

He did the world a ONE big and obvious favor. He put an end to the sanctimony of the so-called good governments.

No one should trust any gov’t any more, least of all the US gov’t.

It is sad and a shame. It is also what obama wanted, to diminish and destroy the last shred of US moral authority and decency. It’s what obama meant by “transparency”. Wake up fools.

All in the world who cheered for obama, you got him fools. The entire world is less free due to obama, not due to Snowden. This will be Snowden’s legacy, no matter what/who he is and what happens to him.

The media are still in obama’s azz. Suffocate from eating all that Beluga, idiots.

Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Guardian: US collected e-mail metadata until 2011

That was a long long time ago. What difference does it make at this point? /

Liam on June 27, 2013 at 12:07 PM

The Obama administration told the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman that they discontinued that specific program of Internet metadata collection in 2011. However, the NSA has replaced it with another, the reporters state, which again collects metadata on Internet traffic that involves at least one point of contact outside the US.

So it’s continuing. And it’s impossible to determine what a specific packet’s route is, so it’s possible that an American to American email has part of it cross into Canada. So collected!

rbj on June 27, 2013 at 12:12 PM

The Obama administration told the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman that they discontinued that specific program of Internet metadata collection in 2011.

Well, if they said so, then it must be true.

Chris of Rights on June 27, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Barry Gettin’ Buggy Wid It?

Resist We Much on June 27, 2013 at 12:18 PM

If it’s true, that’s the biggest slap in Britain’s face since the War of 1812.

Liam on June 27, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Well, of course they’re not going to all be bombshells. I think the nukes have already dropped.

…and if they haven’t, then I’m scared.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:25 PM

And Facebook has been watching your IP address and collecting your private information for years, too.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 12:26 PM

God, Sophie, thanks for the laugh. You are a treasure!

On the one hand, it’s THE GLOBE. On the other hand, it’s OBAMA.

I post, you decide…

Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:29 PM

And Facebook has been watching your IP address and collecting your private information for years, too.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 12:26 PM

They even collect the info of ‘befriended’ people who never chose to join FB.

Boycott the creeps, Google, and all who give data to the gov’t.

Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:31 PM

If we’re keeping track of domestic surveillance, you might as well read this little beauty (via Drudge).

It seems that automation of plate reading, along with complete internet connectivity, means drivers in many regions of California are tracked by police departments from their driveways to their destinations. All the time.

MTF on June 27, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Well, of course they’re not going to all be bombshells. I think the nukes have already dropped.

Yes, I think most media outlets would put the most explosive leaks out first. It does tend to make everything that follows an anti-climax.

Ed Morrissey on June 27, 2013 at 12:32 PM

And Facebook has been watching your IP address and collecting your private information for years, too.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 12:26 PM

That doesn’t bother me. It’s a private company. You have a choice not to do business with them or give them information.

We don’t have that choice with the government.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:33 PM

I think what is going on is that there are 2 aspects to the NSA survelliance.

1. meta data collection
2. backdoor access to content.

Snowden’s claim is not that all content is collected en masse but it can be accessed WITHOUT WARRANT.

IN OTHER WORD – slowly here. If I want dirt on my enemy a tech or agent at the NSA can get content through a backdoor given by the major service providers to the NSA.

The collection of meta data is a separate power of the NSA from the ACCESS NOT COLLECTION of content.

AGAIN the NSA had automated mass collection of metadata on phone and email records but they COULD (and did) collect any content.

BoxHead1 on June 27, 2013 at 12:35 PM

The all seeing eye is watching literally everything. Yoda bites, my firends. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

abobo on June 27, 2013 at 12:35 PM

I should used commas.

BoxHead1 on June 27, 2013 at 12:36 PM

That doesn’t bother me. It’s a private company. You have a choice not to do business with them or give them information.

We don’t have that choice with the government.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:33 PM

But these companies jump in bed with the government at the drop of a room key.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

It does tend to make everything that follows an anti-climax.

Ed Morrissey on June 27, 2013 at 12:32 PM

…but it’s still a never-ending clusterfruck.

Madison, that’s not quite so. They store and share with the gov’t the info of those who didn’t choose to join, but were suggested by those who’re on already. It’s really an indecent company for many reasons.

I hope they go to Hell. All the e-companies are charlatans against freedom, in the pocket of teh gov’t, especially this one.

Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

used use. I give up trying to write. My grammer like the star witness in GZimmerman trial.

Anyway – one more time – Snowden coaborated CLAIM is that The NSA’s metadata COLLECTION is not the same as the NSA’s ACCESS. They collected A LOT but they had access to ALL.

BoxHead1 on June 27, 2013 at 12:44 PM

But these companies jump in bed with the government at the drop of a room key.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Again…that’s their decision to make. I despise crony capitalism, but what’s the alternative? Prevent the private sector from making contracts with the government?

Madison, that’s not quite so. They store and share with the gov’t the info of those who didn’t choose to join, but were suggested by those who’re on already. It’s really an indecent company for many reasons.

Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Wait…they received a suggestion to join Facebook, but didn’t choose to join? Then how would they be on there? Unless their friends created a Facebook account for them(and there the responsibility lies with the meddling, inconsiderate friends), they would have needed to create one themselves.

I am in full agreement with you as to the reprehensible motivations possessed by the heads of these companies, but let’s not go so far as to absolve ourselves entirely of blame for the construction of this monster. As with people who hate Wal-Mart, I ask the simple question: “Would they be as powerful if people didn’t shop there?”

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Eventually, the NSA gained authority to “analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States”, according to a 2007 Justice Department memo, which is marked secret.

Really? Who granted them that authority? Was this just something the DoJ decided was included in the legislation? Or was there actual lawmaking involved?

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Wait a minute!

You mean to say that it’s NOT Bush’s fault?

Maybe it’s racism…. Other than that..

Galt2009 on June 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Wait…they received a suggestion to join Facebook, but didn’t choose to join? Then how would they be on there?

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Actually, they keep any information the friend has on their facebook account that relates to you and tag it to you, even though you didn’t create an account. That’s why they’re being called “shadow accounts”.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Could this be why:

26% of Obama Supporters View Tea Party as Nation’s Top Terror Threat
http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/june_2013/26_of_obama_supporters_view_tea_party_as_nation_s_top_terror_threat

Those pesky Tea Party people and their silly notions of the rule of law and the Constitution… /sarc.

Galt2009 on June 27, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Again…that’s their decision to make.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM

No. It’s not. They are collecting private data on users, then turning it over to the government without telling their customers. It’s fraud and invasion of privacy.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 1:01 PM

Actually, they keep any information the friend has on their facebook account that relates to you and tag it to you, even though you didn’t create an account. That’s why they’re being called “shadow accounts”.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM

What do they tag it to if you don’t have an account?

Either way, the fault still lies with the friends who should have asked before they started putting your life on the their internet exhibitionism toy.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:02 PM

All the “conservative” apologists and blind believers in the police state state … pfft.

Your attempt to distract from Snowden’s revelations is impotent. It doesn’t matter because the force of the NSA revelations are too big for any pretend egghead to stop.

No one will be able to trust the election returns, supreme court decisions or almost any part of the political process ever again.

Whether we admit it or not we will all have a nagging doubt and faithlessness in our system.

Only a child or childish mind could believe that politicians and oligarchs will not make use of the secret surveillance.

Those like HA , Frum and the WSJ will come around when 2014 plays out. I assure you the NSA surveillance will be a reasonable and often used excuse to discount our democratic process. At that point, HA and others will catch up to BoxHead. Embarrassing! The experts should be informing BoxHead , not being informed by him.

BoxHead1 on June 27, 2013 at 1:13 PM

their internet exhibitionism toy.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:02 PM

You’re bending over backward to rationalize this corrupt company just because it’s “private”.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 1:18 PM

This Guardian sure is mega-racist

drivingtheview on June 27, 2013 at 1:18 PM

You’re bending over backward to rationalize this corrupt company just because it’s “private”.

John the Libertarian on June 27, 2013 at 1:18 PM

I’m not rationalizing anything. There was a time Facebook was nothing more than a Harvard-only site for people to use to get laid. It only exists in its current form because we gave it our patronage.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:23 PM

They even collect the info of ‘befriended’ people who never chose to join FB. Boycott the creeps, Google, and all who give data to the gov’t. Schadenfreude on June 27, 2013 at 12:31 PM

In the case of both Google and Facebook, three talented students in their 20′s came out of obscurity to establish multi-billion dollar enterprises. Do you suppose they had some help?

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 1:35 PM

What do they tag it to if you don’t have an account?

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:02 PM

As mentioned, they basically create a shadow account.

Either way, the fault still lies with the friends who should have asked before they started putting your life on the their internet exhibitionism toy.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:02 PM

They didn’t do anything more than put information in their contact list – email, phone, address, maybe a birthdate. The same sort of thing you probably have in your email account… or on your phone. (Especially since some phones have FB built-in, and it will hoover your contacts list from your phone at the drop of a hat. Of course Android phones might have the same problem with Google.)

Yes, FB is actually trying to gather information on you regardless of whether you are a member. I’m sure they can at least sell that info somewhere. Of course, since FB will willingly hand over your their data to the government, they might hand over your info, too.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 1:40 PM

In the case of both Google and Facebook, three talented students in their 20′s came out of obscurity to establish multi-billion dollar enterprises. Do you suppose they had some help?

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Does that go for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, and every other highly talented, well-educated nerd that built an empire?

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:41 PM

This Guardian sure is mega-racist

drivingtheview on June 27, 2013 at 1:18 PM

They must be conservative or something, too.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 1:42 PM

They didn’t do anything more than put information in their contact list – email, phone, address, maybe a birthdate. The same sort of thing you probably have in your email account… or on your phone. (Especially since some phones have FB built-in, and it will hoover your contacts list from your phone at the drop of a hat. Of course Android phones might have the same problem with Google.)

Yes, FB is actually trying to gather information on you regardless of whether you are a member. I’m sure they can at least sell that info somewhere. Of course, since FB will willingly hand over your their data to the government, they might hand over your info, too.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Okay, but still — once again, they had to put information in. Nobody forced them to do that. They had a choice. Their choice put their privacy at risk, and apparently the privacy of everyone they knew. There were people who saw this kind of crap coming a mile away. 15 years ago it was my father refusing to give his phone number when writing a check.

Again, I am feeling nothing but hatred for the government that has taken advantage of the situation we have created…but we still created it. That they didn’t have to demand our information is a testament to our failure to protect it.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Does that go for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, and every other highly talented, well-educated nerd that built an empire? MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:41 PM

Haven’t gotten to them yet. You take half, I’ll take half.

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Haven’t gotten to them yet. You take half, I’ll take half.

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 1:46 PM

I can’t take any more conspiracies. I’m going to Northern Ireland where hatred of government is simple.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:49 PM

Okay, but still — once again, they had to put information in. Nobody forced them to do that. They had a choice.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Their friends didn’t. And, who thought they would hoover and collate that sort of information? Don’t get me wrong: I agree about “internet exhibitionism toy” (I don’t exist on FB), and that the government getting my info is much more egregious. However, this is still a violation of privacy for the users and the non-users of FaceBook. (Might also explain why I keep getting FB emails in my spam folder – maybe one of my relatives or friends has my email in their FB contacts list.)

we still created it.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Scarily – and sadly – this is very true.

GWB on June 27, 2013 at 2:26 PM

I can’t take any more conspiracies. I’m going to Northern Ireland where hatred of government is simple. MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 1:49 PM

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Akzed on June 27, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Are you suggesting that John McAfee was part of a conspiracy? If anything, I’d say he wasn’t, given how hard the Belize government tried to come down on him.

MadisonConservative on June 27, 2013 at 2:41 PM