Newly declassified documents show the dilemma faced by telecommunications companies when the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) came calling.
According to a story this week in the Washington Post, Sprint asked the NSA for legal justification when it received requests for phone metadata in 2009. Reportedly, it was the only telco to require a legal rationale. The documents related to previous occasions for which the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, had issued orders.
After the documents were presented, Sprint dropped its challenge and complied with the request.
“Sprint was in a lose-lose situation,” Center for Democracy and Technology‘s general counsel Harley Geiger told VentureBeat.
“I can see how, [if there had been litigation over this], it would very much appear that you [Sprint] are going to be beat.
“It’s a secret interpretation of the law by a secret court,” he said. “Everything is stacked against you.”
He added that there is now some legislative movement in Congress to modify the basic problem, which Geiger described as “insufficient oversight at every level.”
The documents are posted by the Office of the Director of National Intellligence, with the note:
“These documents relate to a robust interaction that occurred between the Department of Justice and a telecommunications service provider that included the provider’s review of prior FISC applications, orders and opinions, regarding lawful compliance with those orders.”
They all relate to prior orders or requests for orders from FISA. There’s a Motion to Unseal Records, a Joint Motion for Enlargement of Time (for an extension to file a petition), a FISC Order Granting Enlargement of Time, a FISC Order Granting Motion to Unseal Records, and Motion for Amended Secondary Order.
The latter document issued an order in some previous instance “requiring the production to the National Security Agency of the tangible things described in the application [for phone metadata] for investigations to protect against international terrorism concerning activities of [redacted]… .”
It continues to say:
“… There are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to authorized investigations (other than threat assessment) being conducted by the FBI under guidelines approved by the Attorney General under Executive Order 12333 to protect against international terrorism, which investigations are not being conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment…”