Bulk Collection is Dead, Long Live Bulk Collection

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When Republican Mike Rogers claims a bill does something particular – like, say, protect your privacy – it's a fairly safe assumption that the opposite will end up true. (Courtesy: Chris Usher)

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 29 March 2014

As the much anticipated demise of bulk collection of phone data in the US approached the New York Times floated an early analysis of the White House's legislative proposal. It would "end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits" (by the NSA), "bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would" (currently 18 months) and "the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order".

The UK's Guardian quickly followed up on the Times lead with its own take of the proposal with their analysis extending to two other proposals: the "End Bulk Collection Act of 2014" by the House Intelligence Committee and the "USA Freedom Act" by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, identifying the support, or lack thereof, these Act's had garnered from legislators and civil liberty campaigners alike.

In a parallel post in the Guardian by Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Jaffer clearly sought to identify the main reasons for the current situation noting the failure of "an entirely one-sided (legal) system" and the "intelligence committees" who had "failed just as profoundly". In summation, he states that the "phone-records program signals a broader recognition that many of the NSA's surveillance activities lack democratic legitimacy" and "there is a vast distance between what the American public has approved and what the NSA is actually doing".

Trevor Timm, in a follow up by the Guardian, struck a more pessimistic note on the "leaked duelling proposals" of the White House and the House Intelligence Committee focusing on the semantic disparities of: "reasonable articulable suspicion" that someone is an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or "in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power" in comparison with the NSA’s current phone records program that is restricted to a "reasonable articulable suspicion of terrorism". Timm, in defence of his position cited Republican Mike Rogers, that when "a bill does something particular – like, say, protect your privacy – it's a fairly safe assumption that the opposite will end up true".

What is interesting, is that in none of these reports and the subsequent reporting in the Washington Post is the all pervasive omnipresent ECHELON mentioned. This signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and the US has both the capability and the capacity to fill the void in SIGINT created by the limiting or closure of one jurisdictions capabilities. Thus while participants of whatever hue in the US engage in a facile debate of semantics the task is quietly and deftly moved to a less compromising jurisdiction.

Bulk Collection is Dead, Long Live Bulk Collection