Today the Washington Post took us further into the Quantico Circuits and the problems inherent within. The circuits link together the FBI and phone companies and are used during wiretap investigations. Last month, a whistleblower named Babak Pasdar came forward to disclose the existence of the Quantico circuit. They can tell FBI investigators the length of the call, the callers' identities and the location of the callers - a nice reminder that when you're using your phone you're a walking homing beacon.
The catch is that wiretapping orders require a warrant (or not - looking at you, President Bush) but to get the info the Quantico circuit provides, all you need is a National Security Letter, or NSL.
Oh, NSLs again? Yup. Those same creepy little administrative subpoenas are used in connection with this wiretapping, too. (Hey, did you know we asked the Justice Department to begin an investigation into the Defense Department's use of NSLs? It's true. NSLs require no court oversight and have been frequently abused by the FBI).
There are currently bills in both the House and Senate, however, that would alter the NSL statute to make sure NSL requests are tied to actual terrorists and fix the gag that our litigation has struck down three times for violating the 1st Amendment. Hearings have been set for next week in the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Watch this spot for further details.
As for the Quantico circuit, it sounds like the House Energy and Commerce Committee may be doing something about it as John Dingell sent a letter to his colleagues in Congress urging them to look into the matter.
To get some context on this and a nice history lesson, read Shane Harris' great piece on CALEA and the birth of surveillance legislation - very timely in the midst of our current battles with FISA 'modernization.'
Also worth mentioning today: ACLU Staff Attorney Melissa Goodman summed up our NSL work in Jurist.