‘Terrorism investigation’ Court lets NSA collect telephone records data

© Jason Reed
In its first ruling regarding phone records since the passage of the USA Freedom Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the National Security Agency the powers it requested. Much of the court order was redacted, however.

The court order, which was released on Tuesday, does not reveal the identities of any of the telecom providers the National Security Agency (NSA) is working with nor whom the agency is targeting, according to Reuters.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the FISC or FISA court, oversees requests for surveillance warrants from law enforcement agencies involving suspects in the US.

The FISA court held that the government’s application included “specific selection terms” that “specifically identifies an individual, account or personal device.”

“The Court further held that the Government’s application included the required statement of facts showing there was reasonable grounds to believe that the call detail records… were relevant to an authorized international terrorism investigation… associated with a foreign power, or an agent of a foreign power, engaged in international terrorism,” wrote FISA court Chief Judge Thomas Hogan, who signed the order.

Hogan accepted the government’s argument that it was obliged to explain why targeting an individual’s telephone number was “relevant” to its investigation, but did not need to demonstrate the same when examining numbers called from the initially targeted phone.

The judge also said that under the new surveillance law, intelligence agencies could sometimes retain such data for as long as six months if they had reason to believe it might provide evidence of a crime. This comes despite the fact that the US Freedom act requires government agencies to promptly destroy the telephone metadata of Americans and US residents that may be mistakenly collected.

The order was issued on December 31 but not made public until Tuesday, when it was published on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s website. It is the first instance showing how the 2015 bipartisan law, the USA Freedom Act, is being implemented.

Under the revised act, bulk collections previously authorized under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act were banned. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed through classified information how, under that authority, the NSA had been collecting telephone “metadata” on American citizens’ and residents’ calls, including their origin and destination, as well as when a call was placed and how long it lasted.