This 28 October 2009 post from the internal NSA newsletter SSO Weekly discusses the construction of a cable landing station that matches Verizon’s activities at that time: see the New York Times article AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale, 15 August 2015.
Edward Snowden has hailed the recent US appeal court ruling on the legality of the US telephone metadata collection that was the subject of the first of his mass surveillance revelations. Speaking to security researcher Runa Sandvik at the Nordic Media Festival on 8 May, Snowden said that the importance of the ruling “in the United States’ legal and policy communities really can’t be overstated… [marking] a radical sea change in the level of resistance that the United States government has faced thus far” and that “it will affect every other mass surveillance program in the United States going forward.”
Edward Snowden’s full comments follow below.
Runa Sandvik: The first document that was published by The Guardian in June almost two years ago revealed that the NSA was collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily. Shortly after this document was published, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit. On May 7, we learned that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the statue the government is relying on to justify this–Section 215 of the Patriot Act–does not permit the gathering of this information and that the surveillance program is unlawful. What was your reaction when you first heard about this?
This is significant and the importance of it in the United States’ legal and policy communities really can’t be overstated. When we look at the actual ruling and what it held, it was that the program, which had originally started as warrantless wiretapping under President George Bush in the 9/11-era, had never been lawful to begin with, and yet they did it anyway. What’s extraordinary about this is the fact that in 2013, prior to the leaks, Amnesty International brought the same challenge against the same individuals, and they thew it out of court saying the organization could not prove it had been spied on. Because of this, whether or not the programs were lawful, whether or not they were a violation of rights, they would not allow them in the court room.
The first story that was published by Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists working on this showed that there was a secret court order, from a secret court, that basically said you can monitor the phone calls, intercept the call detail records, collect all the metadata. Metadata being analogous to the kind of information the Private Eye would collect if they were following you around. Not necessarily a record of every single word that you said in conversation with someone else, because you might notice them, but they know where you traveled, who you had met with, where the meeting took place, what time it occurred, how long it went on for, so on and so forth. That is metadata in the phone context. It’s not what you say on the call, it’s who you’re calling, how long, association records, basically who your friends are. But this secret program authorized that to occur, in secret, by a secret court, and it wasn’t something where it authorized any particular targeting of any particular individual. Rather, it said they can collect the phone records of all 330 million Americans in the country without having any criminal suspicion, without having any reasonable suspicion even of wrongdoing of any kind. Rather, they would collect it all in advance of any criminal investigation or criminal act.
This being struck down is really a radical sea change in the level of resistance that the United States government has faced thus far. So far, courts have said “it’s not our place, our role, to tell the Executive Branch of the government how to do their job.” It is extraordinarily encouraging to see the courts are beginning to change their thinking to say “if Congress will not pass reasonable laws, if the executive will not act as a responsible steward of liberty and rights in how they execute the laws, it falls to the courts to say this has gone too far.” No fair reading of the law would authorize this, even if that had occurred it is not reasonable to expect the public to have known that this was the law, and it must change. And that’s really significant and I think that this decision will not affect only the phone metadata program, it will affect every other mass surveillance program in the United States going forward.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a ruling on the legality of the NSA’s call records programme from a US federal court. Back in December 2013, judges in two federal courts gave conflicting verdicts on whether the domestic collection that was the subject of the very first Snowden revelation was constitutional.
These July 2009 documents provide a full list of the fibre-optic cables GCHQ had access to at that point, including details of location, bandwidth and corporate partners: see the Süddeutsche Zeitung article Snowden-Leaks: How Vodafone-Subsidiary Cable & Wireless Aided GCHQ’s Spying Efforts, 25 November 2014.
This excerpt from the 14 March 2013 edition of internal NSA newsletter SSO Weekly describes an incident on 12 March where “unwitting” contractors discovered a cable tap known as WHARPDRIVE, which had to be discreetly reinstalled and provides details about the Breckenridge access point that corroborate the identification of the NSA’s corporate partner STORMBREW as Verizon: see the Der Spiegel article Spying Together: Germany’s Deep Cooperation with the NSA, 18 June 2014.
In the wake of the publication of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) report into the NSA’s collection of domestic phone metadata, a number of voices in the US have echoed the Board’s findings that collection is neither effective nor legal. In the past 48 hours, both the New York Times and the LA Times have published editorials calling for bulk collection to be ended – and even the Republican National Convention has called for an immediate end to “unconstitutional surveillance” and a full investigation into the NSA’s activities.
A FISA Court order issued to Verizon demanded daily call records for all communications within the US and between the US and abroad: see the Guardian article NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily, 6 June 2013. Continue reading