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Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy For the FBI To Spy On Journalists (theintercept.com) 189

schwit1 shares with us a report on a 11-part series led by The Intercept reporter Cora Currier: Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists' phone records with approval from two internal officials -- far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures. The classified rules dating from 2013, govern the FBI's use of national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists' calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. They have previously been released only in heavily redacted form. Media advocates said the documents show that the FBI imposes few constraints on itself when it bypasses the requirement to go to court and obtain subpoenas or search warrants before accessing journalists' information. The rules stipulate that obtaining a journalist's records with a national security letter requires the signoff of the FBI's general counsel and the executive assistant director of the bureau's National Security Branch, in addition to the regular chain of approval. Generally speaking, there are a variety of FBI officials, including the agents in charge of field offices, who can sign off that an NSL is "relevant" to a national security investigation. There is an extra step under the rules if the NSL targets a journalist in order "to identify confidential news media sources." In that case, the general counsel and the executive assistant director must first consult with the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division. But if the NSL is trying to identify a leaker by targeting the records of the potential source, and not the journalist, the Justice Department doesn't need to be involved. The guidelines also specify that the extra oversight layers do not apply if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization "associated with a foreign intelligence service" or "otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power." Unless, again, the purpose is to identify a leak, in which case the general counsel and executive assistant director must approve the request.
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Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy For the FBI To Spy On Journalists

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  • by zenlessyank ( 748553 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @06:43PM (#53777459)

    Yet they force us to play.

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @09:43AM (#53780067)

      Yet they force us to play.

      Even more interesting is how those of us that recognize this and learn how to play by the rules of said game to our advantage are demonized in a true hello pot meet kettle fashion. Who exactly do they think we learned this from? It's the Lucifer Effect [youtube.com]. FWIW - I won't compromise my morals and ethics but I will use the same tactics as those that those do not have morals and ethics use, I just use them in a different way strategically. Want to fix the problem? Fix the game. The game is creating bad people.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @06:44PM (#53777461)
    make everything easy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zlives ( 2009072 )

      2013... thx obama

      • by zlives ( 2009072 )

        sorry, not meant as troll bait, just kinda tired of all the hate both ways.

        • by shanen ( 462549 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:28PM (#53777757) Homepage Journal

          The reality is rather more complicated than your feeble attempt at a joke might suggest. Not really blaming you. I wanted to think of some humorous aspect of the entire situation and came up drier than your attempted witticism.

          President Obama inherited a mess. The roots of the problem go back way before 2013, 2008, or even 2000. The entire governmental system has become hopelessly distorted by partisan politics. The founders hated political parties and understood the risks of putting party ahead of country. They probably would have outlawed political parties if they could have figured out any way to prevent the leopard from changing its spots, but at least they tried to isolate the sickness and keep it out of the judicial branch. Most prominently, that's why federal judges were appointed for life.

          A lot of people would point at Bush v Gore as the breaking point, but I actually think that was just the harvest. The seeds were planted decades before. Maybe Ike deserves the negative credit for trying to defuse two of his political adversaries by putting them on the Court? Or FDR for his attempts to pack the Court, though at least he failed in his bum's rush approach and had to wait for time to do its little ravaging act? Or maybe we should just jump all the way back to Marbury v Madison and President John Adams?

          Anyway, at this point I think whatever Obama did badly, #PresidentTweety is about to do worse.

          Nobody expects the Email Inquisition.

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            Interesting take on it, but if you want to lay blame for partisanship, then it belongs at the feet of Hamilton first and foremost.

            A couple of additional lines added to the Constitution when it was written, something along the lines of "No consecutive terms except for president/vice president" and "all bills must be hand authored by a single lawmaker" would have gone far to limit the BS currently in vogue.

            • by shanen ( 462549 )

              Good suggestions and I want to agree with you, but I think that whatever rules you have, there are some people who value "winning" above everything. You need to assume that those people will cheat and twist the rules, and no matter how you change the rules, they will just look for new ways to cheat.

              Maybe the biggest problem in today's America is that all the rules are being written by professional politicians who have become highly responsive to bribes from people of that sort? With #PresidentTweety they've

      • If you read the document, it states it is an update to a document last modified in 2011. Which means we do not know when the policy was put in place unless we look at the 2011 version as well and follow the paper trail.

        So, can't exactly blame on Obama. On the other hand, this document was leaked under the Obama administration which could have been intentional. Bare in mind, the FBI's mandate and policies are governed by not just the President but Congress as well (if not more so).
      • 2013... thx obama

        Of course, Trump will immediately issue a presidential decree to fix that, right?*

        (*don't tell anybody, but that was sarcasm)

      • Personally I think everything that Obama did or allowed the government to do should be pointed when Trump uses it. Maybe it will help to fix people's thinking that it is ok because their side is doing it. When the Democrats take the White House again I would encourage to point out the same with Trump.

        I am somewhat surprised we haven't seen a resurgence of Occupy yet, myabe the weather is still too cold so maybe they are waiting until things thaw out some.
    • In a healthy democracy there shouldn't be such a thing as "secret rules".

      Now that USA has disqualified itself as the world's custodian of democracy and freedom, is there any other country that wants to volunteer for this job?

      • In a healthy democracy there shouldn't be such a thing as "secret rules".

        This. A thousand times this. If the voters don't know what's going on how are we supposed to make reasonable and informed decisions? A vote from an uninformed electorate is like participating in a kayak race without a kayak. You're just pretending to go through the motions.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The rules aren't what makes it easy; the rules are used to justify it. The fact that "call records" are a thing that someone else stores for you, is what makes it easy.

    A modernized phone system would lack the capacity for anyone to be able to do this, regardless of any rules.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you're not a cop, you have no rights.

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:02PM (#53777593)
    Trump used the time machine hidden on Putin's secret moon base to go back in time and convince Obama to empower the FBI with this power. Evil Trump, again!

    Because we all know that the Obama administration was The Most Transparent and Most Open and Most All Good Things ever, ever in history, ever. And that Hillary Clinton was a big fan and was going to continue his policies. Except for Trump's secret time travel leverage. Evil Trump!
    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      Trump used the time machine hidden on Putin's secret moon base to go back in time and convince Obama to empower the FBI with this power. Evil Trump, again!

      Never happened. The time machine got hacked before it could ever do this and as a result the Russian hackers erased that timeline.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:06PM (#53777617)

    NSL's have more fuckery involved than just journalists. This isn't new, and many have been speaking up for a long time. Everyone needs to respect the bill of rights and constitution. I know some here enjoy bashing the second as well as being advocates of the 4th, but all need to be respected regardless of which American football team you pull for. NSL's should be illegal. Put your Obama and Trump bashing aside and unite for a common goal.

  • They are not really journalists. Now if they were objective truth seekers and reported the honest, unbiased facts then I would be really upset!
    • unbiased journalism is a long dead art form. I find it causes a conflicted feelings in me as I believe the press should have a great deal of freedom from interference but in return they need to earn that freedom and trust and as far as I can see they do not.
    • by suutar ( 1860506 )

      and with rules like this there never will be any "real journalists" again.

      • The internet, consumers and success of clickbait has already ensured they won't exist. Real Journalism doesn't pay.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:10PM (#53777635)

    How exactly to they decide what news organizations are considered...well, news organizations, and by extension which people are considered journalists? Because if they set the bar low enough, then this is basically everyone. For example, by commenting on /. (a site that claims to provide news), am I contributing to the reporting of the news and therefore considered a journalist? What about someone with a blog, in which they report news about their own life or a topic of interest? For that matter, if facebook is a news site...

    The potential for overreach seems laughably high with this policy, even by US domestic spying standards.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      A profession mentioned and protected in the United States Constitution.
      The color of law way around that is to start to define what a "profession" is and who a real journalist is or what a news organization is.
      Cant pay for accreditation for all staff and then get new documents for the news organization, no protection.
      It would be back to the days of needing the correct local police media id in every city, town, state, parish every year.
  • by cloud.pt ( 3412475 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:18PM (#53777695)

    Am I oblivious to the US Constitution? How can you have "secret rules", not approved/ratified/signed/passed/whatever in and by a public law.making body such as the upper house, the lower house, an executive order (am I missing something here?)? Aren't all these supposed to publicize new laws to those that vote? So people actually know what the guys they voted for are doing, and, you know, actually know if they are following the "most recent law"?

    Because the way I see this, when you have ad hoc "secret rules" applied by justice or intelligence bodies, that is the definition of abuse of power (or spying, which is basically "abuse of power" for non-judicial purposes). One thing is to know there are gag orders put in place to companies - those gags were approved publicly, so the people basically "know companies might or might not be screwing with your privacy rights", but such a thing as "secret rules" would turn that to "every government executive body or law enforcement might or might not be screwing with your _rights_" (as in "all rights", that's how broad it becomes).

    The existence of such rules mean, in essence, there can be rules like, for instance "allowing your or your entire family's execution because you ate a pretzel this morning without giving tip and a police officer didn't like it"; or milder, yet stupider things like "ban you from Netflix because you watch too much foreign movies". It gets that stupid.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree, it's stupid, but it's, sadly, remarkably easy to understand.
      One of the problems is called "Regulatory law" (as opposed to legislative law).

      Unfortunately, Congress often passes laws where it doesn't know what it's doing, so it drafts the law vaguely and defers the exact rule making to sub agencies.
      Thus, in crap like the Patriot Act, you have statements like "cannot intentionally capture data from US citizens", and the NSA taking their scumbag lawyers and writing briefs on exactly what THEY THINK tha

      • That was actually a very educational explanation to my (sorta rhetorical) question, thanks!

        And sadly, I don't believe you're exaggerating either, but in contrast I do believe most people ARE aware of practices like this. I just think current society likes teeny tiny doses of 1984-esque Big Brother where law doesn't really apply, and that's why such "ruling" must be kept under wraps - too much "one-man law" and people revolt.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      In the past the NSA, NRO, CIA collected everything but did not want anyone knowing methods and ability.
      But the raw material had to get to the DEA, FBI and other agencies. The GCHQ could help too, Project MINARET https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].
      In the 1970's anti-war and civil rights groups started to notice the COINTELPRO https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] collection methods.
      Factions got created in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements.
      Finally internal FBI documents made it out the wider p
      • Very thorough timeline, and a tormenting conclusion.

        But as a common citizen, I try not to dwell too much ins conspiracy theories - my mind, by my own decision (I believe) has to focus on the small tasks and interactions that actually affect and can be affected by me, and my mind has to take (false?) comfort there's someone else "above" me, directing, ruling my country in ways that cannot be that bad, as in effect I live in a world I somewhat consider safe.

        Nevertheless, when I tackle this "basic rights and b

        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          It really depends on how interesting the person the security services find.
          If you did not or are not working for the US gov/mil or as a US contractor or mercenary and are not talking to the media a person is not that interesting.
          If your not a member of the press looking for gov/mil contacts or showing former gov/mil workers documents that are still secret via whistleblowers.
          Most of the main US systems are looking for financial, political, legal, technical terms or terms that should not be out in public.
    • Am I oblivious to the US Constitution? How can you have "secret rules", not approved/ratified/signed/passed/whatever in and by a public law.making body such as the upper house, the lower house, an executive order (am I missing something here?)? Aren't all these supposed to publicize new laws to those that vote? So people actually know what the guys they voted for are doing, and, you know, actually know if they are following the "most recent law"?

      The other question is "why does the press not care until a Republican gets in the White House?" We all know the answer, of course.

      Related: note that a Navy SEAL died in combat, and that's suddenly front page news again.

      • You don't answer questions with questions. Leave that to Trump, Hillary and whatever candidates want to steer public opinion in a structuraly charismatic debate that wants to sway votes sans logic in the mix.

        As for why does the press does what it does when democrats lose the upper hand - and in your own question for question logic - why does social media care to share fake news and disproportionate assertions about immigrants or misinformation about global warming? Because it's just that easy to turn a stup

    • Congress for years has been delegating authority to agencies to make their own rules.
      It has been argued that this is a violation of the US constitution.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      The higher courts also defer to the agencies to interpret their own rules and don't review them for constitutionality.
      That's apparently known as the Chevron doctrine.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].

      Benjamin Ginsberg wrote a book about some of that stuff.
      What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run th

    • Am I oblivious to the US Constitution? How can you have "secret rules", not approved/ratified/signed/passed/whatever in and by a public law.making body such as the upper house, the lower house, an executive order (am I missing something here?)? Aren't all these supposed to publicize new laws to those that vote? So people actually know what the guys they voted for are doing, and, you know, actually know if they are following the "most recent law"?

      Because the way I see this, when you have ad hoc "secret rules" applied by justice or intelligence bodies, that is the definition of abuse of power (or spying, which is basically "abuse of power" for non-judicial purposes). One thing is to know there are gag orders put in place to companies - those gags were approved publicly, so the people basically "know companies might or might not be screwing with your privacy rights", but such a thing as "secret rules" would turn that to "every government executive body or law enforcement might or might not be screwing with your _rights_" (as in "all rights", that's how broad it becomes).

      The existence of such rules mean, in essence, there can be rules like, for instance "allowing your or your entire family's execution because you ate a pretzel this morning without giving tip and a police officer didn't like it"; or milder, yet stupider things like "ban you from Netflix because you watch too much foreign movies". It gets that stupid.

      I don't know how they justify it in their heads but the way they keep the charade up is by making it so that no one has legal standing to sue. Then those pesky judges in the supreme court don't have to spend a few minutes thinking about the constitutionality of these things. No suit? No hearing, no ban on NSLs. Its the perfect plan and the judges that sit on the FISA court let it go because they're hoping the cooperation will allow them to attain that high seat on the Supreme Court!

  • The classified rules dating from 2013, govern the FBI's use of national security letters

    Well, thank you, Donald J. Trump!!! Oh, wait...

    • by kwalker ( 1383 )

      Who knows. Since he seems to hate everything Obama did and wants to rip it out and replace it. Maybe he'll get rid of this too.

      (I know, I know. I'm laughing too).

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        But, at least, now we know about this... Because, as I don't mind reminding yet again, dissent is patriotic once more...

        Had it become sexist instead last November, things would've remained as they were for 8 more more years...

      • (I know, I know. I'm laughing too).

        Whatever Trump may do, Obama's conduct needed to be punished at the polls; no party should get away with this kind of bullshit and then get reelected.

        And it wasn't just this where Obama failed, it was also his massive crony capitalism, his sabotage of race relations, his drone killings, and his war mongering.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          You are still cheering him? I give it a max of two weeks before Trump is going after you as well as the Muslims.
          I hope I'm wrong, but after his ridiculous artificial emergency this week it's on the cards that his next one to save America's florists and bakers from gays is not far off.
          • You are still cheering him?

            I have never "cheered" Trump.

            I give it a max of two weeks before Trump is going after you as well as the Muslims.

            Well, I'm a citizen now. But until 1990, homosexuality was grounds for exclusion, and not being able to enter the US because a president screwed up an EO is hardly anything unusual either. Obama and Clinton both opposed gay marriage, until it was politically expedient to say something different; they are not trustworthy on gay rights.

            As for direct threats, I consider vi

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )

              Well, I'm a citizen now

              You didn't see his tweets in November about removing citizenship?
              He's hit the Muslims, he's hit the greens, he's going to work his way down his enemies list and you are going to find that there are a lot of people on it.

              I consider violent activists a far bigger threat ... Jesus types

              Take a look at some of the people close to Trump starting with Bannon. They are not "Jesus types" - they are the merchants in the temple at best and more like the violent activists you mentioned. They w

              • They are not "Jesus types" - they are the merchants in the temple at best and more like the violent activists you mentioned.

                You apparently have little idea of what it means to actually live under an oppressive or homophobic regime.

                I think you are going to be getting a lesson soon that is going to teach you about government and that how even a mediocre one is better than both anarchy and what we'll soon be seeing.

                Yes, that's pretty much the attitude of progressives these days: if you don't get your political

                • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                  You apparently have little idea of what it means to actually live under an oppressive or homophobic regime

                  I sort of do but not at the receiving end. Where I lived in the 1980s gays were being jailed for being gay and their bashings were condoned by the obviously corrupt police (the commissioner later did jail time) if it stopped short of murder. I did some work at a radio station where there were some gay and lesbian programs broadcast and spent a lot of time with the presenters so heard a few things, but

                  • However I'm not the straw man you are building in my name.

                    I'm not "building a strawman". Actually, I just despise you.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                      Are you sure? You've accused me of a vast range of things I do not believe in or have not done. It's that strawman.
  • by Bruce66423 ( 1678196 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @07:27PM (#53777751)

    A force that used its powers to target journalists' phones has been told off by the UK regulator on the issue.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk... [theguardian.com]

  • "Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy For the FBI To Spy On Journalists"

    If the rules are "secret", there are no rules.

    Headline should be: "FBI Now Able To Do Whatever The Fuck They Want In Order To Spy On Journalists"

  • by Kili ( 265889 ) on Tuesday January 31, 2017 @09:24PM (#53778249)

    Are we not ALL citizens entitled to the same constitutional protections of our inalienable rights? Why the heck is it special for journalists and why are we not all equal under the law?

  • The classified rules dating from 2013, govern the FBI's use of national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists' calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted

    Thank you, Mr. President, for restoring civil liberties, privacy, and the rule of law, like you promised! It's why we voted for you!

    And we will remain as faithful to your party as you have been to us, the people!

  • Home of secret law, land of safe cowards.

  • encrypted drop boxes for setting up contacts with sources...

    really weird when you have to use spycraft to protect your sources from your own government agencies...

  • There is a certain level of incompetence or willful malice in the use of NSL and secret rules. Even if you are in the FBI and you don't have a moral objection to spying on everyone without a warrant you must know that this behaviour is going to drive people to use end-to-end encryption and anonymizing networks. Many journalists are already doing this, soon most email will be end-to-end encrypted. Thank you NSA and FBI for ruining future law enforcement's ability to collect evidence.

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