Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Judge Behind the NSA Snooping Fun and Games

A document recently released dating from April 25, 2013 gives us the background that we need to better grasp where the orders regarding government agency snooping on our private communications came from, particularly through the use of Verizon's data.

Here are the first few pages of the primary order which allowed the gathering of data from Verizon.  Please note that NOFORN means that no foreign nationals are to be given access to this information:

A key phrase in the document is found on page 13:

"Additionally, prior to disseminating any U.S. person information outside NSA, the Director of NSA, the Deputy Director of NSA or one of the officials listed....must determine that the information identifying the U.S. person is in fact related to counterterrorism information and that it is necessary to understand the counterterrorism information or assess its importance.  Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share results from intelligence analysis queries of the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch personnel in order to enable them to determine whether the information contains exculpatory or impeachment information or is otherwise discoverable in legal proceedings or to facilitate their lawful oversight functions." (my bold)

Here's one last interesting phrase from the primary order:

"BR metadata shall be destroyed no longer than five years (60 months) after its initial collection."

Five years gives everyone ample opportunity to invade our privacy.  Unless, of course, the NSA finds another willing FISC judge who is only too happy to rubber stamp a five year extension.  That should give NSA technicians plenty of time to weed through our mundane phone conversations and web browser histories.  Of course, being that we are only the uninformed and sweaty masses, we'll never know whether an extension has been granted or not unless another Edward Snowden should happen to come along.

Basically, the President, as the head of the Executive Branch, can make the ultimate decision on whether the information gathered by the NSA can either clear or convict the American citizen (U.S. person) involved.  Since the power of the Executive Branch is "vested in the President of the United States" and includes the Vice President and the Cabinet (15 executive departments), there are quite a number of individuals who can ultimately control the data set.

Here's the last page showing which member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was responsible for giving away our privacy:

Mr. Vinson, a federal judge hailing from Florida and an ex-Navy fighter pilot with the rank of Lieutenant,  just completed his seven year term as a member of FISC on May 3, 2013, very shortly before he approved the NSA's data gathering.  Mr. Vinson was originally nominated as Judge of the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, way back in September 1983.  Mr. Vinson was appointed to FISC on May 4, 2006 by Chief Justice John Roberts.  Back in January 2011, Mr. Vinson struck down President Obama's pet health care law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) as unconstitutional stating that:

The Framers believed that limiting federal power, and allowing the “residual” power to remain in the hands of the states (and of the people), would help “ensure protection of our fundamental liberties” and “reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse.”  Very early, the great Chief Justice John Marshall noted “that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written.”  Over two centuries later, this delicate balancing act continues. Rather than being the mere historic relic of a bygone era, the principle behind a central government with limited power has “never been more relevant than in this day, when accretion, if not actual accession, of power to the federal government seems not only unavoidable, but even expedient.(my bold)

Additionally, Mr. Vinson stated that Congress must act within the bounds of the Constitution and that Congress, in the case of passing the ACA, acting outside the bounds of the Constitution.

FreedomWatch has released a document showing that Mr. Vinson and the President (among others including Verizon) are subject to an action by Larry Klayman, a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor for violating the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution and for violating Mr. Klayman's privacy as a user of Verizon Wireless.  In this action, it is claimed that Defendant Vinson:

" an attempt to keep his illegal acts and those of other Defendants as secret, further ordered that no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under his order.

The total claim against the defendants?  Mr. Klayman demands that $8,000,000 in relief to cover the cost of attorneys' fees and costs plus any other relief that the Court deems just.

Looking back at Mr. Vinson's interpretation of the Constitution in both aforementioned cases, apparently the legal system is quite flexible when it comes to using the founding document for whatever purposes they choose.  In Mr. Vinson's case, it also appears that he is quite capable of arguing that the powers wielded by federal government should be either more or less intrusive, depending on the day.


  1. After all the statements about how we need these programs to protect us from the "bad guys" I have yet to hear any politician talk or delve into the cost. Many people would say that Governments spying on their citizens appears to have become a global phenomena, but is it? It sounds like many of the countries in Europe find the revelations of the America government collecting and sifting through "metadata" as somewhat distasteful. It should be pointed out that Europe also shares many of the same problems with terrorist attacks that we in America face. It is generally thought that the countries engaged is such covert and Orwellian actions are generally paranoid states with totalitarian rulers or the non-democrat systems that exist in countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, and a host of other places. For more on this subject see the post below,

  2. I and many others are concerned that the NSA, as part of the administration and able to share private information within the administration's departments, will do so when it is politically expedient to shut someone up. No problem finding dissenters to your point of view and then sending the IRS to audit them, or maybe a surprise visit from your local SWAT members on orders from the justice department. If you trust the government to protect your rights when they have this kind of power you are naive.