The Pen Register and the Meter – Reasonable Expectations of Privacy?

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Lyle says:

    Let me ask a question. Assuming they wanted to would it be illegal to collect return addresses on mail? All be it that one could duck the issue by not putting a return address on, but likewise today one could buy a prepaid disposable cell phone to do the same. Of course email is harder to do, since the senders address is a mandatory part of the header info, along with the IP address (since you can spoof the sender address by appropriate coding but not the IP address if you want the message to get thru. All it takes is a hacked email program, I further suspect that there exist offshore mail forwarders that allow one to disguise the ip address also.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      Let me add a link to a web site that tells what the conversation with a sendmail agent from a mail program is: You will note that the piece says and I can confirm by experience that one can type commands to sendmail.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      It’s legal to collect return addresses on mail, IIRC. I don’t even think the target of the mail needs to be under surveillance of any official sort.

      Email’s actually pretty easy to forge, both on the Sender and on the originating IP address. There are still plenty of open relays on the Internet.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      From what I recall given that the return address on an envelope for example is easily seen in public spaces and indeed must be read for the mail to be delivered, it’s not considered information that you might have any reasonable expectation of hiding.

      Prepaid disposable cell phones is one of those things that has given electronic surveillance courts an enormous headache, because the statutory laws that govern the use of wiretaps somewhat assumes that lines are fixed and limited in number.Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        However in a letter the message is private, as one would expect the message in a postcard is not. I.E. they can’t open the letter. Now I don’t know the status of a document sent by UPS or FedEx.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          This is correct. The content of a letter is considered to be private, but the destiation is not. Same goes for UPS or FedEx boxes. That doesn’t preclude USPS, UPS or FedEx from keeping a registry/database of who and from where people have sent you mail.

          What makes all this difficult of course is that email through anonymizers, and disposable cell phones give you something of a new means where the objective, reasonable expectation of privacy here is that your very actions using those forms of communication would be subject to privacy. Of course the USG and the judicial system more specifically haven’t seemed to have recognized this. Nor for that matter are they so keen on allowing things like encryption to stand on its own.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Snail mail, too. I believe that every piece of mail that goes through the big processing centers is scanned, often printed with bar codes. I’ve never heard that the envelope scans are stored; but I’ve also never heard that they’re not stored. Certainly, the technology is there and has long been in use; and since you’re using a 3rd party, there’s no expectation of privacy about who you communicate with via snail mail.Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    So far my favorite tweets about this are:

    J.P. Feire: “First time I’ve seen an agency do a Monday news dump bc a Friday news dump failed so spectacaularly. It’s like a scandal fire sale.”

    Jonah Goldberg: “Government is just the word we use for things we do together, like audit political enemies and monitor journalists’ phone calls.”

    Anyway, why did they grab two months worth of phone records when the leak in question only could’ve occurred over about a two day period? Were they just on a fishing expedition?Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

      I’d love to see one bit of evidence that Goldberg had any problem with the Bush wiretaps.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      It’s known as traffic analysis for a reason, I’d imagine they were trying to establish the pattern of who the leaker might be.

      But again, this is authorized by court precedent and by statute. I don’t like it, but that’s the law of the land.Report

  3. Avatar George Turner says:

    I’d love to see one bit of evidence that Bush wiretapped the press.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Goldberg wasn’t necessarily cheering, but he was taking a rather opposing track on excusing the NSA’s wiretapping program back in 2006.

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        More broadly I think we’d all be pretty sure how the narrative would play out if it were a President McCain or Romney’s DoJ doing this than the Obama Administration.

        “Well clearly whoever is leaking information about US operations in Yemen is endangering national security and the liberal media is only complaining about it because they’re used to being allowed to treat national security like a blahblahblahblah”

        Or if the Administration had stood by and done nothing with regard to the AP:
        “The Obama Administration clearly cares more about their publicity than they care about effective national security efforts. They should have made sure the leaks were never public etc. etc. etc”Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          And how the AP, like the rest of the MSM, cares more about their so-called rights that about fighting terrorism.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      You did; the papers were full of it.

      Please stop lying.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        (this was in reply to George ‘I see NOTHINK!’ Turner)Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        Could you perhaps link to an example? I’m pretty sure if he wiretapped the press, the press would’ve written something about it.Report

        • Avatar mcmillan says:

          Most of the stories I remember and have tried looking up have been more general tapping issues, with journalists suspecting they may have been targets, but not being able to prove it.

          I did get linked to this story about a wider wiretapping issue which includes the paragraph

          “And agents twice improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations. ”

          which seems pretty much the exact same thing as was happening hereReport

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            From what I understand, that’s legal because Obama did it too, and if Obama did it, Bush probably did it first, and he did.

            And you didn’t complain about that. And whether or not I complained about it is immaterial.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    “Smith v. Maryland” Noted for when the slope dropped more steeply downhill in the loss of any freedoms…Report