NSA spying: FISA court upholds surveillance; LinkedIn files petition; Verizon exec blasts tech firms

Your umpteenth NSA spying roundup:

• A declassified opinion released Tuesday by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which as we have noted has criticized the NSA for flouting the law in some of its data collection, upholds the constitutionality of gathering call information when relevant to an authorized terrorism investigation. The Washington Post writes that the 29-page opinion was released at the will of Claire Eagan, a FISC judge, and not in response to any outside requests.

Privacy advocates such as the ACLU aren’t buying it: “On the whole, the opinion only confirms the folly of entrusting Americans’ privacy rights to a court that meets in secret and hears argument only from the government,” Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement Tuesday.

• LinkedIn has petitioned the FISA court to allow it to disclose the number of NSA requests it has received. The news is curious because the Mountain View company’s co-founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman recently told TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington at the Disrupt conference: that LinkedIn had not had “touchpoints” with the NSA or Prism, and that he thought he would know if the company had received  such requests. (Hat tip to Politico Morning Tech)

In a letter to LinkedIn members posted on its website, the company said Tuesday, “Despite our outreach and efforts to work cooperatively, we were recently told by the U.S. government that, notwithstanding our commitment to transparency, we were prohibited from providing our members and the general public with even basic, aggregate information regarding the numbers of national security-related requests, if any.” The letter was signed by Erika Rottenberg, LinkedIn’s general counsel.

Other tech companies that have asked the court for permission to disclose similar information are Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft.

• In other Silicon Valley-related news, Verizon executive John Stratton has blasted tech companies for what he calls grandstanding about Prism, according to ZDNet. “I appreciate … that it’s important to grandstand a bit, and wave their arms and protest loudly so as not to offend the sensibility of their customers,” he said, referring to the Google et al. He said there needs to be a balance between security and freedom.

By the way, the FISC also said in its declassified opinion that no telecom companies have challenged requests for phone records. It’s not a surprise given how quiet the companies have been on the issue. (Well, except now that the Verizon exec is slamming the tech companies.)

The first report about massive NSA spying on phone calls involved Verizon handing over metadata, or phone-records information but not its content, to the government. It was later revealed that wireless carriers AT&T and Sprint were doing the same.


Photo: The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md. (Associated Press archives)


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  • “The news is curious because [Hoffman told Arrington] that LinkedIn had not had “touchpoints” with the NSA or Prism.”

    I suspect that’s because LinkedIn wants permission to loudly proclaim either that the number is ZERO or that (nearly) all of the small number of “national security-related requests” it has received were not under these controversial practices or programs, but rather by customary search warrants and court orders. (Another clue is from Rottenberg’s carefully worded “…numbers of national security-related requests, IF ANY.”)

    The problem with these strict secrecy laws is that they require companies to “neither confirm nor deny,” as they say. As I’ve written before, the only conceivable reason Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft and now LinkedIn have been asking, pleading, even SUING for the right to disclose these figures is because the number or percentage of NSA/natsec-related data requests they’ve received is miniscule compared to the total body of requests they receive for user data from all federal, state and local authorities combined.