Yesterday the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Department of Justice used subpoenas to collect telephone calling records for many of their journalists and editors. In doing so, the AP brought light to an interesting crisis at the nexus between secrecy, privacy, constitutional boundaries, and modern technology.
The relevant law for wiretapping phone communications dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision, which said there is a distinction in privacy between dialing a number and listening to a call; the Supreme Court narrowly limited protection to the latter.
The backstory: Last year, the AP ran an article about an al-Qaeda underwear bomb plot that relied on sensitive information given to the news service by an undisclosed source. The Department of Justice considers leaking classified information to be a national security risk. When someone leaks to the press, the department's policy is to pursue the leak, not the journalists who extracted it.
Which is why the Justice Department went after the AP's phone records. A list of numbers dialed by editors and journalists is in theory a good place to start looking. Under current wiretap law, dialed numbers are not afforded the same protection as calls, and can be obtained without a warrant.
Here's the problem. When the Supreme Court set the legal precedent back in 1979, phone records contained much less information. Nowadays, a phone record's metadata includes not just the phone number, but the time the call took place, the call origin, the call duration, and the carrier.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the protection of digital rights, said in a statement released yesterday that it "no longer makes sense to treat calling records and other metadata related to our communications as if they aren't fully protected by the Constitution."
Electronic communications have improved drastically since the legal precedent was set, and the amount of revealing data now transferred with a phone call is far greater than just a telephone number. But the law has yet to catch up with technology—which means the Justice Department has access to a lot more than just the numbers dialed by the AP's journalists.
The law also states that any subpoena obtained shall be of limited scope in both who or what it targets and length of time. In this case they targeted more than 100 reporters over a two month period. A little too broad to constitute a legal search and seizure. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but it is what I've recently read as to the reason why this such a scandal.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
What really bugs me is that doesn't the article never answers (or even restates) the title question. I came here expecting an explanation of what info can be obtained from somebody's phone records. Instead I got a brief summary of a DoJ scandal that's not terribly surprising, unusual, or educational.
Come on, PS, show some more editorial discretion.
The Constitution is not flawed. And I hope the Justice Dept gets to the bottom of the leaks. What the framers of the constitution failed to realize, is that today's Media is 96% Jewish Based Owned by about 6 or 7 Jewish Companies, which is Flawed and basically a Monopoly on News Flow,Content and not subjective. There is no longer any freedom of the Press except for the Internet. When only ONE WORLD VIEW is dominated by one Group of people Hellbent to push their Zionist agenda. This is really nothing shy of Israeli Espionage, to undermine the Obama Administration and America, keeping our Country in a state of Chaos, Dumb-ed Down, and distracted, while their other leaches drain our Treasury and Rob our Freedoms. They've already hijacked the 1st Amendment, but recently failed to destroy the 2nd Amendment, and America better hurry and wake the heck up and realize we already have been invaded, as the enemy has already infiltrated our shores, and polluted the populace with Dancing with the Stars fantasy mentality.
By establishing a government, we create laws and remove freedom. Yes our government publically announces it is for freedom, but with each invention of a new law, comes a further limitation of freedom.
Our government has gotten way WAY too big and now it wished to keep us very managed similar to cattle and sheep.
WAKEUP USA citizens!
I am for the original USA constitution. Society needs laws or we would have chaos, but when the laws have gotten so strong its control humanity similar to cattle, and the lawmaker are bankrupt and can no longer make decisions, it is time to step back and reduce the government.
WAKEUP USA citizens!
Kelsey, you wrote:
"When the Supreme Court set the legal precedent back in 1979, phone records contained much less information. Nowadays, a phone record's metadata includes not just the phone number, but the time the call took place, the call origin, the call duration, and the carrier."
AT&T has collected all of that information for toll and long distance phone calls for over 60 years, as was reported by Popular Science in 1949.
They did it then and they do it now to bill accurately; as have telcos worldwide for decades.
The EFF's complaint said nothing about phone call metadata being more revealing; fuller quote from the EFF:
"datamining has now reached the point where it no longer makes sense to treat calling records and other metadata related to our communications as if they aren't fully protected by the Constitution."
Modern American datamining correlates your phone with your credit card and your face with surveillance video and your facebook with your youtube, and your bank statement with your tax return, etc.
Without a blink of a cloud.
You missed the forest for the leaves.