Unlawful Intercept

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Ignoring my desire to stay out of the political fray, I see an absolute and pressing need to share my feelings of outrage at the ever-evolving revelation of just how deep the US Government has gone in illegally listening-in (And presumably reading-in) on its citizens private conversations and communications.

This blog is not a rant.  It is a careful analysis of the laws, rules, and right that we, the American public have.  I encourage all feedback as long as it civil and pertinent.


Part I – My Views On Lawful Interception

Let me refer you to my previous three blog entries (here, here and here ) on the subject.  As you can see, I fully appreciate and support the need for lawful intercept.


Part II – The United States Constitution

One of the best reasons to live in the USA, if not THE best, is the existence, foundation, and insistence on implementation of the US Constitution.  In particular interest to this entry, I refer the reader to Amendment Four, part of The Bill of Rights:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This Amendment,  issued in part due to abuses by British and other forces, addressed one of the causes of theAmerican Revolution.  That is just how important this topic was, and is today.


Part III – Attempts at Diluting the US Constitution

In 2006, Judge Richard Posner of the US Federal Bench, issued a statement.  One with which I respectfully, yet wholeheartedly, disagree.   The good judge stated that The US Constitution is Not a Suicide Pact .  My question to the Judge and those who would quote him is simple:  If not, what is it?

The foundation of our Constitution and its strength comes from Moral Trust; from Moral Compass; from Moral Belief.   Not referring to the Honorable Judge, who is deserving, according to that same Constitution, to his own opinion,  I believe that those who would subvert the Constitution for their own gains are deserving of scorn.  Those who manipulate it for their own purposes – to punishment.

This Suicide Pact is what created a nation.  It is what led brothers to arms, mothers to fight, and ultimately children to Liberty.

Don’t Tread on My Constitution.


Part IV – US Federal Law

A well known, yet seldom read statute, is the US Public Law 18 U.S.C. § 1385 which was passed on June 18, 1878, celebrating this year its 131st birthday.  This law, known as the Posse Comitatus Act is not merely a devise at a Bruce Willis movie.  It is choice we, the People, made.

Among other statements in the Law, the following appears:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

If that was not enough, take a look at another Federal Law, this one is 10 U.S.C. § 375 -"Restriction on direct participation by military personnel":

The Secretary of Defense shall prescribe such regulations as may be necessary to ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel) under this chapter does not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.

Both of these US Laws forbid the use of the US Military (a temporary allowance was legally made to assist recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina) to fulfill, in the US, any function reserved, or typically fulfilled by, law enforcement agencies.

To address concerns about Terrorism, the US Congress enacted another law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Amended at least three times,  it created an update to allow the US Government some, carefully measured, ability to listen in on suspect foreign agents.   According to Wikipedia:

…The act was created to provide Judicial and congressional oversight of the government’s covert surveillance activities of foreign entities and individuals in the United States, while maintaining the secrecy needed to protect national security…


Part V: What Did We Find Out?

That while the National Security Agency is, indeed, one of the elements in the US Department of Defense, former Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney has actively used their resources  to listen-in, wiretap, collect, analyze and share information about American’s talking, viewing, surfing, emailing, chatting and…. habits.

All the while:

lying to Congress;

instructing his staff to lie to Congress;

instructing staff in other departments of the Government (for example: The Justice Department) to withhold information and lie to their own bosses, and Congress;

And yes, I assume that he lied to the Chief Executive too, especially about the size of the net in this case.


Part VI – Stupid Results From A Dumb Program

According to CNN,

a report Friday [July 10 2009] by the inspectors general of the CIA, the Justice Department, the Pentagon and other agencies found that some FBI and  CIA agents were frustrated by the secrecy surrounding the program.


…most intelligence officials interviewed for the report had trouble "citing specific instances where PSP reporting had directly contributed to counterterrorism successes.



Part VII – Call for Action

Mr. President Obama and Honorable member of Congress:  We must wipe this very dirty slate clean.  Even if there were convictions based upon the use of such tainted evidence, they would and should have been thrown out.  We must:

  1. Cancel this vast expansion immediately
  2. Investigate whom, in addition to Cheney, championed this course of action (yes, include Mr. Yoo.)
  3. Charge the responsible for crimes against The People of these United States.  And it does NOT matter WHY they did what they did, only that it was done.











Lawful Intercept(ion) Primer Part 3 – How?

This entry is part of a wonderful series, Intercept»

In this final blog in the series, I will discuss the How of Lawful Intercept – how it is installed, how it is done, and what is involved in the process.


Firstly, let me clarify that, in the US, the capabilities described herein were mandatory since at least 2007.  In other words – your telecommunications provider MUST have them already in place.


In the beginning, Lawful Intercept, and yes, its unlawful cousin, were both called "wire tapping".  To wire tap you would need access, ideally physical access, to the telecommunication medium.  In other words, you would need to be able to tap into the

  • Phone (or computer) at either (or both) ends;
  • The wire connecting the end points; or
  • The telephony (or network) switch creating the connection.

It worked something like this:

Rotary Phone
Image by AZAdam via Flickr



Someone could have put a "bug" into a telephone set:




Or listen in on the wire (yep, really as simple as this):







Using a device such as a "buttset":









Or simply plug a listening, or a recording, device, into this, old style, telephony switch.





Today, however, things are more complicated.

When technologies such as Voice-over-IP () or cellular G3 and beyond are involved, there are at least two more challenges added to the mix.  These are encryption and path-sharing.

Under the term "encryption", with the rising sensitivity to privacy concerns, quiet a lot of conversations, be they voice or data, are now subject to mechanisms previously only used by governments.    One of the reasons for Lawful Intercept laws is the concern that terrorists or other malefactors will use such technologies to make sure that Law Enforcement will not be able to listen in.  There are mechanisms, such as the ones discussed below, that address this concern.

The term "path sharing" refers to the fact that today, especially under cellular connections, data and voice, and in many times, those data and voice "packets" from very many conversations at once, are sharing the path to the switch.  Imagine the difficulty picking up a single conversation from a commingling of 100,000!  This is clearly only the territory of computers today.

So how is it done?


Under the leadership of a European standards organization called ETSI, a standard for Lawful Interception emerged.  This standard, used virtually everywhere such interception is performed by Law Enforcement, is designed as follows:


ETSI's LI Model



Looking closely at the diagram, lets notice a few elements (from right to left):

  1. Firstly, the column marked "LEA" refers to the network, operated by Law Enforcement officials, and here it is the recipient of the intercepted information.
  2. The broken (or dashed) line marked "handover" is where interface is made between the telecommunications provider and Law Enforcement
  3. The three boxes in the "cloud" represent the "checks and balances" in the system.  In our case, they both serve to assure that no one point collects all information allowing some measure of privacy to the individuals intercepted. (the term CC above refers to the content of and the term IRI to intercept related information for the specific information of the call).

One note of caution.  As you can see from this system, it can support long-term listening.  It can also support automatic processing of data and, using computer technology it can support sorting through many, many calls at the same time, looking for such "keywords" as bomb or kill.

We should cherish living in a free society, where such measures are done by Judicial processes alone.   As we saw, in closed societies such as Iran, not only can the data collected be searched for trigger words such as Mousavi or demonstration but also used to pin point the source of the conversation, its destination, and serve as documentary evidence to prosecute, and indeed persecute, free expression.