While much of the news coverage of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s Congressional hearing this week focused on his admission that the FBI has used drones domestically, there were some other points raised, including his “defense” of the broad surveillance techniques that appears to amount to the idea that it just takes too long to obey the Constitution and go through the proper procedures before getting information:
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mueller addressed a proposal to require telephone companies to retain calling logs for five years — the period the N.S.A. is keeping them — for investigators to consult, rather than allowing the government to collect and store them all. He cautioned that it would take time to subpoena the companies for numbers of interest and get the answers back.
“The point being that it will take an awful long time,” Mr. Mueller said.
Well, shucks. Having some amount of oversight, someone in a position to make sure that the data requested is legit would just take too long? It seems like Mueller maybe has been watching too many episodes of 24. First off, it does not take an “awful” long time. Law enforcement has regularly been able to go through legal processes to get a wiretap or subpoena other information very, very rapidly, especially when they make it clear it’s an emergency situation. But the fact is, it’s unlikely that most of these searches are such a timely emergency that they need the data now, and can’t wait an hour or so until an employee at the telco can retrieve it for them.
Mueller later made some outrageous claims about how long it would take the telcos to respond to a request for information following the standard procedures in an emergency.
“In this particular area, where you’re trying to prevent terrorist attacks, what you want is that information as to whether or not that number in Yemen is in contact with somebody in the United States almost instantaneously so you can prevent that attack,” he said. “You cannot wait three months, six months, a year to get that information, be able to collate it and put it together. Those are the concerns I have about an alternative way of handling this.”
Mr. Mueller did not explain why it would take so long for telephone companies to respond to a subpoena for calling data linked to a particular number, especially in a national security investigation.