NSA tapped fiber cables to collect data

July 10, 2013 at 3:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) -- The National Security Agency, which collected cellphone and online data from technology companies, also tapped fiber cables, The Washington Post said Wednesday.

The newspaper said it has obtained a classified NSA slide listing "two types of collection," showing the agency had a data collection category called "Upstream" that accessed "communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past."

That was in addition to PRISM, which collects information from technology companies and has been widely reported by the Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The slide does not make clear the ways in which Upstream and PRISM interact but it instructs intelligence analysts to use both methods, the Post said Wednesday.

A former judge on the secret U.S. court overseeing government surveillance requests says he was shocked by changes forcing the court to OK blanket surveillance.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "has turned into something like an administrative agency," retired U.S. District Judge James Robertson testified during a hearing of a federal oversight board, directed by President Barack Obama to examine government spying and civil liberties after rogue National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked significant information about the NSA's spying program.

"A judge needs to hear both sides of a case," Robertson, who served on the secret surveillance court from 2002 to 2005, told the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the first public hearings since Snowden's revelations.

"What FISA does is not adjudication, but approval," Robertson said, referring to the court by its shorthand moniker, after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that created it.

"This works just fine when it deals with individual applications for warrants," Robertson continued. "But the 2008 amendment has turned the FISA court into administrative agency making rules for others to follow.

"It is not the bailiwick of judges to make policy," he said.

Robertson's comments were the first significant public criticism from a current or former FISA judge. FISA judges until now mainly spoke anonymously to defend the court process, British newspaper The Guardian said.

The 11-member FISA court, created to provide legal oversight and protect against unnecessary privacy intrusions, originally focused mostly on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders.

After Congress' 2008 reform of the FISA system, the court had greater oversight of intelligence operations and was required to approve entire surveillance systems, or what Robertson called "programmatic surveillance," rather than just surveillance warrants.

This turned the court almost into a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues, current and former officials familiar with the court's classified decisions told The New York Times last week.

FISA court opinions will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

Robertson testified Tuesday he was "stunned" by the Times report, which said the FISA court had created a secret body of law empowering the NSA to amass vast amounts of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in espionage, cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation.

He said he was originally impressed with how "careful, fastidious and scrupulous" the court process was but said with the court's expanded role, the so-called ex parte system, in which only the federal government is allowed to make its case before the court, needed immediate reform.

"This process needs an adversary. If it's not the ACLU or Amnesty [International], perhaps the PCLOB can be that adversary," Robertson said.

Oversight board members shook their heads and rolled their eyes at the suggestion their board serve as adversary, The Guardian reported.

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