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United States Crime Privacy

Justice Officials Fear Nation's Biggest Wiretap Operation May Not Be Legal ( 118

schwit1 writes with news about a vast wiretapping program and questions about its legality. USA Today reports: "Federal drug agents have built a massive wiretapping operation in the Los Angeles suburbs, secretly intercepting tens of thousands of Americans' phone calls and text messages to monitor drug traffickers across the United States despite objections from Justice Department lawyers who fear the practice may not be legal. Nearly all of that surveillance was authorized by a single state court judge in Riverside County, who last year signed off on almost five times as many wiretaps as any other judge in the United States. The judge's orders allowed investigators — usually from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — to intercept more than 2 million conversations involving 44,000 people, federal court records show."
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Justice Officials Fear Nation's Biggest Wiretap Operation May Not Be Legal

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  • but its working (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @09:27PM (#50912333)

    Look how the narcotics trafficking and related crimes have plummeted in California. Oh wait that's because pot is legal now, nevermind

    • Look how the narcotics trafficking and related crimes have plummeted in California. Oh wait that's because pot is legal now, nevermind

      No, pot is still illegal here, MMJ is what's legal. It's a distinction with only a legal difference. In places where pot actually is legal, like CO, drug crime has truly plummeted.

      • sorry maybe I should have said medicinal pot. is that ok?

        even with non-M MJ being illegal, they whole business of arresting potheads has plummeted. as it should, jailing people for it waste of resources and ruins peope's lives

    • What we need is a case like this that does not involve national security where overly broad warrants are issued very much like the warrants that are possibly secretly being issued under the Patriot Act. That is the only way we can get the constitutional issues resolved because at every turn the Federal Courts are running up against state secrets privileges when dealing with these terrorism warrants.

  • Huh? Illegal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lead Butthead ( 321013 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @09:29PM (#50912339) Journal

    Illegal? When has that ever stopped the government?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NotInHere ( 3654617 )

      Certainly not when a high ranking taliban was treated in a doctors without borders hospital, and the US government started bombing that hospital, breaking international treaties, killing innocents, burning down a hospital.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You mean that time when the local police told the military they were being attacked from the hospital in an area where the territory can change hands quickly?

        Please, stop spreading propaganda. You should include details from multiple sides of an issue.

  • sooo, arrest everybody....easypeasy.
    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Or anybody. I guarantee you not one arrest will come of this. I'm almost as certain no one will even lose their job over it.
  • America (Score:4, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @09:41PM (#50912381)
    My tag line says it all.
  • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @09:42PM (#50912383)
    Seriously, isn't it about time to rethink the war on drugs? It should be pretty damn obvious, to even a politician, that casual drug users are not an infinitesimally small minority of the population. How about plowing all of that money into education and actual rehabilitation. Besides, we always have the war on terror as an excuse to violate the Constitution when needed.
    • It's also pretty obvious that the private prison industry is huge and lobbies extensively.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You don't understand bureaucrats. At every turn, nearly every bureaucrat wants to expand his or her power, budget, staff, and salary. Appearing to fight some "war" is a perfect excuse to do this.

      Term limits for politicians and bureaucrats both are necessary for the US to avoid becoming ruled by despots.

      • by raind ( 174356 )
        You would think right? Term limits in my state means the pols see the end of their employment with the state and turn tricks for the lobbyists (corporations) instead.
  • I would be happy to discard potential indictments because the government is no longer willing to gather evidence in a constitutional manner.
  • by rea1l1 ( 903073 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @10:15PM (#50912463) Journal

    "If I am anywhere in the USA, and am talking on my cellphone, can the government hear me? And are they recording? And can they use it against me at any time?"

    "Yes." -- Bill Binney, former NSA Tech Director. Worked for NSA 37 years


    "Bulk surveillance is not necessary to protect anybody. NSA tries to track everyone on the planet. google: the program Treasuremap. OS's are absolutely not safe!" -- Bill Binney, former NSA Tech Director. Worked for NSA 37 years []

    • The problem is that getting a warrant is little more than a check box on a form -- "Make sure you get one before firing up spy software!" There is no technological barrier to not having one, nor uncorruptible logging of access that can be regularly reviewed later by judges and elected officials. So there is no stopping illegal political spying, the real source of the need for warrants.

      What you describe are wbat are effectively "general warrants", also specifically outlawed by the Constitution, which allow

      • This may be why US attorneys warned that the data collection might be illegal. Personally, I'd be surprised to find that wiretapping on that scale was legal, without the judge issuing a lot more than five times more warrants than any other judge in the country.

  • "May"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    When you're so far over the line that the DOJ says "hey, you might have gone a little too far," that's a pretty good sign you're well into "clearly illegal" territory.

    Not, of course, that the DOJ would ever actually take up a case against a law enforcement office breaking the law. Heaven forfend.

  • Meanwhile... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Will_Malverson ( 105796 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @10:19PM (#50912477) Journal

    ...the rest of us fear it may be legal.

  • 1) do you have a warrant, based upon a sworn declaration of probable cause, issued by a neutral magistrate, particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized?

    2) did you lie to a judge to obtain a warrant?

    If the first answer is "yes", and the second answer is "no", then you're not a criminal. If your answers are different and you're doing it anyway, then FUCK YOU.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      If the probable cause is based upon an informant, all a cop has to do is to tell himself that the informant is reliable and the information is sound. From there on, there is no lying to a judge required. If it turns out that your "informant" is just another cop running illegal taps, just don't ask.

      Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.

  • "Fear" ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @10:37PM (#50912537)

    Because law enforcement personnel sometimes face consequences when they do something illegal?

    • Cops do fear there will be consequences when they do something illegal. Definitely. You see, most of the time they can't be 100% sure the victims of their illegal actions will be black. That is why they fear the consequences. sometimes.
      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        That's what plant guns, drugs, "failure to signal", and "he was reaching for something...." are for. It's the get-out-of-jail-free-card equivalent.

  • Wait... (Score:4, Informative)

    by webdog314 ( 960286 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @10:50PM (#50912567)

    If this judge works 52 weeks a year (no vacation), and a typical 40 hour work week (without breaks or lunch), and we assume that "conversations involving 44,000 people" requires that each call (warrant) requires at least 2 people (22,000 warrants max), then this judge would need to approve one of these more than once every six minutes!

    • well, do you have a problem with that?
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      They're just reading the line that says "authorized by" and writing their name. They can do that in less than six minutes.

    • With that number of warrants I would bet the judge is either signing them as bulk warrants or delegating it to a clerk using an authorised signature machine.. He might even just be using a rubber stamp..

  • There is no "fear" here. "Think", "know", "are certain that", yeah all those. If there were any "fear" here we would be on the right track.
  • It should read
    "Justice officials fear public will find out nation's biggest wiretap is illegal and action. Which is unlikely to happen or be effective if it does"

  • "This is an area of our law, an area of our law enforcement, where we can't be totally transparent, in the same way that the federal government can't be totally transparent about the massive intelligence operations they run," he said.

    So, secret laws, then?

    Of course you can be transparent -- about the process. Individual cases, yes, people understand that those details may need to be secret, but not the process. Otherwise people might think that there are secret laws in use here.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      "Of course you can be transparent -- about the process. Individual cases, yes, people understand that those details may need to be secret, but not the process. Otherwise people might think that there are secret laws in use here."
      If the paper work exists to plant malware to turn a cell phone into tracking beacon, have a stealth live mic option to record all conversations even when "off' is a soft touch option and seems powered down. Thin sealed in battery design helped a lot with that :)
      If so then its j
  • by fred911 ( 83970 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @12:23AM (#50912965)

    that's why they've made up parallel construction.

    http://thefreethoughtproject.c... []

    It's way past time that we encrypt and obfuscate all communication.

  • Who cares what is legal []?

    Sorry man, I'm just in a groovy mood... dig?

  • No, it's just illegal. Not legal under the fourth amendment (lack of probable cause) and not legal under the fourteenth (lack of due process). There are counterarguments, but if this comes up in trial it will go to SCOTUS and they will definitely rule that it is illegal.

    Unless you elect a republican. (Next President gets to appoint a lot of justices; republican justices tend to be more anti-criminal and a little less about safeguarding individuals against overreaching by law enforcement). Then they will

  • Here is a solution:

    The discipline process of federal judges is initiated by the filing of a complaint by any person alleging that a judge has engaged in conduct "prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or alleging that such judge is unable to discharge all the duties of the office by reason of mental or physical disability."[5] If the chief judge of the circuit does not dismiss the complaint or conclude the proceedings, then he or she must promptly appoint

    • A better way to set an example would be to draw and quarter him in the public square for being a traitor.

      • You don't know what the word "traitor" means. It's a person who commits treason []:

        In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife or that of a master by his servant. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a lesser superior was petty treason. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.


  • Of course it's legal! President Obama is a constitutional scholar.


  • by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @08:43AM (#50914145)

    I love the headline (really do, no /sarc) because it really shocks the monkey. It brings to mind some hypothetical Ouija Board conversation with say, a channeled framer of the Constitution or Machiavelli or Stalin --- using the USB interface Ouija Board I built for faster throughput. I will market it as IRC for the Dead. Once the modern definition of 'wiretap' is cleared up it really gets rolling.

    FRANKLIN: I take it you mean the interception of private letters? We affix waxen seals to guard against casual inspection should carriers desire to do this, though there are some with great skill in revealing their contents. Steam from a kettle is often employed. But it is surely an unreasonable search for a government to do so. We also at times employ clever codes.
    MACHIAVELLI: It is hard to imagine why such inspection would be desired for the massive daily packets that traverse cities, nations and oceans. Would not the burden of reading become tiresome?
    STALIN: I instruct my post office to tear everything open whether there is time to read them or not. They rifle and crumple the contents. Some times they even stain the letters with wine to give correspondents the impression that there was a great feast and their precious documents were passed hand to hand and read aloud. In order to preserve equanimity the State must keep all persons on uneven footing.

    ME: In these times hardly anyone speaks in code and there are no seals. We speak into our devices plainly, and the paper packet has become a flowing river of letters passed over wires. Any communication can span the globe.

    FRANKLIN: No seals and plain speech everywhere. What an enlightened time!
    MACHIAVELLI: So those who talk greatly outnumber those who might listen? In the cacophony of such a mob secrets may be shouted yet unheard.
    STALIN: This is madness. Every telephone conversation across the border had a listener. If one was not available the operator would ring you back, at times days later. Shut it all down before it is too late.
    FRANKLIN: Surely our government takes steps to protect its citizens from having their conversations heard by hostile governments?

    ME: You guys are so behind the times. These are not just voices, everyone is identified and it so happens that the United States Government does most of the listening throughout the entire world, even and especially to its own citizens. People all over the world consider us scoundrels for doing this. They can even store voices and play them back years later. If a tyrant should arise, the Militia will discover that their own names and entire personal histories are laid bare, so the tyrant can clean house more efficiently than any in history.

    FRANKLIN: How... can.... this.... be?? No,no no!-------- LOST CARRIER
    MACHIAVELLI: How crude and uninteresting. So this is a simple story of gross stupidity and madness then. Ah, and I had hoped that as time progressed the plots of men would become more intricate. I think I will leave now to find a more suitable parallel existence.
    MACHIAVELLI <has left the channel>
    STALIN: Now it gets interesting. Tell me more about your government's so-called 'wiretaps'.

    ME: Well, which one? I mean there are so many. You have
    Local policemen tracking people with their phones, able to follow their position. The voices are inside their boxes and with a flip of the switch they could hear them. They're only supposed to flip that switch if they have permission.
    It is the law under the CALEA Act [] that our telephone companies be able to simultaneously intercept as much as 1 in 100 conversations in cities...
    Under FISA people can be followed everywhere in the country and listened to with no involvement by local police and judge.
    The DEA, Treasury and IRS can do pretty much anything they want, they rely on judges that rubber stamp requests.
    The NSA is a spy organization like your KGB that was bound by charter

  • by Anonymous Coward

    At least, until a higher court judge disagrees. As of right this second, however, there was nothing illegal about the wiretaps.

    Law 101.

  • I don't understand this word "fear"? How can they "Fear" anything? Does a single one of them actually risk prosecution? Does any one of them think that, if they were prosecuted, the provisions of the Westfall act which allow the Government itself to stand for the defendant would not be invoked?

    They have nothing to fear but reassignment at worst.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.