The order has been posted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It remains to be seen whether this is related to the Electronic Frontier Foundation suing the government for forcing U.S. companies to decrypt data.
With the U.S Congress passing the USA Freedom Act last year, it has been disclosed for the first time that the ultra-secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has issued its first order, which allows the National Security Agency to collect telephonic metadata.
As per a post on a website operated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the court order had been issued on December 31.
The court order, signed by FISC Chief Judge Thomas Hogan, concludes that an application for surveillance, presumably submitted by the NSA, met the requirements of the USA Freedom Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last year.
Of note is the fact that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the U.S. Government to reveal the extent FISC has compelled U.S. companies, if at all, to decrypt information.
The USA Freedom Act replaced an older law which allowed the NSA to collect telephonic “metadata” of U.S. citizens and residents, which includes their origin and destination and their duration. The issue came into the fore with the damning disclosures made by former NSA’s private contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed the extent of U.S. surveillance worldwide.
After Snowden’s disclosures, the law and surveillance procedures underwent revisions: the government supposedly longer collects bulk telephone metadata, however it could get access to targeted metadata from telephone companies after due authorisation from the foreign intelligence court.
Naturally the identities of the telecoms “providers” and the targeted who were targeted along with the phone numbers whose metadata the NSA wanted has been redacted from the version of the court order posted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
As per FISC Chief Judge Thomas Hogan, the permission relates to “the ongoing daily production of detailed call records relating to an authorized international terrorism investigation”. He did not give any further details of the nature of the investigation for obvious reasons.
In his order, the chief judge accepts the argument that although the government must explain the relevancy of the phone numbers that are being targeted in relation to the investigation, it does not however need to demonstrate the same relevance while examining numbers that have been called when the phones where initially targeted.
The chief judge also said that although the new surveillance law requires government agencies to destroy telephone metadata which it may have mistakenly collected on U.S. persons, (do note the language – not U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, but U.S persons) they can however retain such data for as long as six months if they have reasonable doubts whether the data could provide evidence of a crime.