Category Archives: Surveillance

FARA in Focus: What Can Russia’s Foreign Agent Law Tell Us About America’s?

In 2012, Russia passed its first-ever Foreign Agent Law, which western analysts described as an attempt to stymie civil society. Russia argued that it modeled its Law after the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Samuel Rebo describes how on their face the laws seem similar, while their implementation has differed. While Russia has actively used its Law, the US launched only a single criminal FARA prosecution from 1990 to 2010. However, since Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, DOJ prosecutors have brought more FARA cases (2016-2019) than they had in the past 50 years combined.

Comparing FARA to its Russian counterpart, Rebo notes that the Russian law contains significantly more substantive limitations on the functioning of “foreign agents” than does FARA. However, both laws are broad and can sweep in legitimate civil society groups. Thus, DOJ discretion is the main barrier stopping America from replicating Russia. Rebo argues that, given the First Amendment rights at stake, this reliance on the DOJ is insufficient, and Congress should amend FARA to narrow its breath and clarify its scope.

Is the Fourth Amendment Really for Sale? The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Purchase of Commercially Available Data

By US Army Maj. Steven Szymanski

Introduction

The commercial data market has exploded.  Data has even been dubbed “the oil of the 21st century.”[1]  Aiming to capitalize on this blossoming industry, data brokerage companies have emerged to collect, collate, and sell personal data from nearly everyone who uses the Internet.[2]  New online data auctions occur thousands of times per day, selling everything from users’ shopping preferences to their actual location.[3] 

Many Americans have experienced the eerie phenomenon of receiving advertisements for regional businesses during cross-country travel.  The realization that our smart phones and applications are tracking our movements is becoming common knowledge.  While discount offers for local steakhouses may be welcomed during road trips, serious questions have emerged about the lack of regulation in this new market and the potentially ominous uses of commercial cellular location data.  This piece focuses on a slice of this larger discussion by examining whether intelligence agencies should be permitted to purchase the commercial data without a court order.[4]   It concludes that policy makers should preserve the U.S. intelligence community’s (IC) ability to purchase this information, while imposing substantial oversight to ensure that American privacy interests are preserved.

In early 2021, Senator Ron Wyden queried the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to confirm: (1) whether DIA purchases commercial location data from apps installed on consumers’ smart phones; and (2) whether the agency construes the landmark Carpenter v. U.S. decision as “only applying to location data obtained through compulsory legal process” and not to “data purchased by the government?”[5]  In January, the DIA affirmatively answered both questions, reasoning that Carpenter’s scope was limited to law enforcement and did not prohibit the IC’s authority to collect commercially available information to support intelligence requirements.[6] 

Likely and predictably dissatisfied with the DIA’s response, Senator Wyden introduced the “Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act” (hereinafter, the Act) on April 21, 2021.[7]  If passed, the Act would prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from purchasing commercially available data without a court order or warrant.[8]  Though the bill has been met with bipartisan endorsement and heralded by privacy advocates, the DIA should petition Congress to preserve its nearly four-decade authorization to collect publicly available information (PAI) for intelligence purposes to support national security objectives. 

Part I of this article will briefly summarize the landmark Carpenter v. U.S. ruling.  Part II will analyze the DIA’s position that its purchase of commercial data is lawful.  Part III will describe the Department of Defense’s (DoD) current procedures to safeguard U.S. person information (USPI).  Part IV will examine the Act.  Finally, Part V will argue that prohibiting the DIA from purchasing commercially available data is imprudent and unnecessary.  Instead, Congress should direct that DoD’s existing privacy oversight mechanisms be supplemented by routine audits from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). 

I.  Carpenter v. United States

In 2018, Chief Justice John Roberts authored a 5-4 majority opinion in Carpenter v. U.S.[9]  According to the facts in the case, following the arrest of four suspects for a series of robberies, one suspect confessed and provided the FBI with his co-conspirators’ cell phone numbers.[10] The FBI then applied for three magistrate court orders to obtain “transactional records” which included their historic cellular cite location data (CSLI).[11]  The judges granted the orders, citing authority under the Stored Communications Act, finding that the government met its burden of providing “specific and articulable facts showing reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought were relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”[12]  On these grounds, the CSLI was admitted as evidence that Mr. Carpenter’s cell phone was in the vicinity of the crime scene during the date and time of the robberies.[13]

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Effective Oversight of Large-Scale Surveillance Activities: A Human Rights Perspective

Daragh Murray, Pete Fussey, Lorna McGregor, and Maurice Sunkin explore the international human rights law implications of state surveillance.

Today, state surveillance involves the large-scale collection and analysis of digital data—activities which allow for widespread monitoring of citizens. And while commentary on the legality of these bulk surveillance regimes has focused on whether this routine surveillance is permissible, the European Court of Human Rights has recently held that, subject to appropriate safeguards, surveillance of this type is legitimate, and sometimes necessary, for national security purposes in a democratic society.

In their analysis, the authors outline the types of oversight mechanisms needed to make large-scale surveillance human rights compliant. To do so, they break down state surveillance into its constituent stages—authorization, oversight, and ex post facto review—and focus their attention on the first two stages of the process.

First, they argue that effective oversight of authorizations requires increasing data access and ensuring independent judicial review. Second, they argue that effective oversight of ongoing surveillance requires improving technical expertise and providing for long term supervision. The authors conclude that a “court-plus” model of judicial officers and non-judicial staff would deliver enhanced judicial qualities to authorizations while also providing continuous engagement through ongoing review and supervision.