• September 3, 2021

Jan.6 committee irritates Republicans with data requests

The January 6 committee is looking for a smoking gun or, more likely, a smoking tweet.

That seems to be the goal behind a recent series of requests issued by the House committee investigating the insurrection in the United States Capitol this year. The committee has asked 35 technology and telecommunications companies to preserve the communications data of hundreds of people who may have been involved or have information about the chaos of the day.

The companies have not been asked to provide the data yet; For now, the committee is asking companies to only keep records of specific people in case the committee needs them later as part of its investigation. If that happens, the committee will likely issue a subpoena.

However, the request has already made some Republicans nervous. If the companies comply, threatened House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), his party members “will not forget” the next time they are in power. McCarthy is one of the people whose details are part of the committee’s request, CNN reported.

But what exactly is at stake? What information do these companies have, and how likely is it that they will release it if that’s what it is?

The requests were sent to a wide range of businesses, from social media platforms and messaging apps to email services and phone companies.

But the language shared in the letters describes the same requests: that each company keep the information it has on people who have been charged by the Department of Justice or the District of Columbia with crimes related to the insurrection; participated in the organization of the rallies held in Washington on January 5 and 6 that preceded the attack on the Capitol; or he may have been involved in plans to delay or interrupt the voter certification process.

However, beyond that, requests differ between subsets of companies.

Social media, forums, email platforms and messaging services, as well as technology companies offering a wide variety of products, such as Amazon and Microsoft, were asked to preserve “metadata, subscriber information, technical usage information and content of communications “. from April 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021, for persons appointed by the committee.

Subject to that request is data such as names, IP addresses and other identifying information behind the relevant user accounts; the metadata and “call or message details” associated with the accounts; and the content of communications such as emails, voice messages, direct messages, text messages, videos, photos “and other files or other data communications stored or sent from the account.”

Telephone companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Sprint received versions of a different and more extensive letter focused on telecommunications data.

Among the information they have been asked to retain is cellular location information (such as cell phone tower locations and historical GPS locations); logs about incoming and outgoing calls and text messages (including the content of the texts); voicemail and text metadata; and subscriber information, including Social Security numbers, physical addresses, and billing records.

The nature of the data requested for preservation could indicate the direction that committee members plan to take during the course of their investigation, as well as concerns that technology companies may lose or otherwise purge the data, as happened. with Facebook. recently caught doing. (Facebook attributed the disappearance to an accident and said it has now been fixed.)

Meanwhile, Google appears to have been targeted with a personalized letter asking CEO Sundar Pichai to keep a long list of Google account records, such as search and browsing activity; Emails (“including Drafts and Trash Emails and Spam”); Google Pay transactions; Google Calendar events (“and information about all attendees or guests”); files saved with Google tools like Drive, Photos and Contacts; messages sent through Hangouts and Google Chats; account location history; and Google Voice call logs.

Although the list of people whose data is being attacked has not been released, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) Has said it includes hundreds of names. CNN reported on monday that the list, which is said to be evolving, at one point included former President Trump, various members of the Trump family, and Trump-aligned Republican members of Congress such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan and Madison Cawthorn .

McCarthy, who opposed the creation of the January 6 committee, warned companies that they would be violating federal law if they released the records during the investigation. His office did not respond to an email asking what law he was referring to. The Times could not identify any federal laws that would prevent companies from complying with such a request.

Among the biggest unknowns on January 6 is exactly what Trump was doing during the hour-long riot, including who he spoke to. Military and Justice Department leaders have told Congress that they did not speak to the president that day. But a number of Republican representatives and senators, including McCarthy, are known to have been in direct contact with him and have largely refused to discuss the content of the talks.

Although some Democrats have made broad accusations that some of their Republican colleagues aided the January 6 rioters, they have provided no evidence to back up the claim.

There is a history of communications companies complying with government subpoenas and politicians being upset about it.

Democrats were horrified to learn this year that the Trump administration’s Justice Department had aforementioned communications from some members of the House as part of an investigation into leaks related to the Russia electoral interference investigation.

And during Trump’s first impeachment trial, Republicans were angered that Democrats had identified the phone numbers of Republican representatives as part of a larger series of communications from the White House.

Many of the companies subject to the investigation did not respond to a request for comment from The Times or declined to comment. The few that did issue statements offered few details about what data they have and will release if requested.

“We have received the request and we look forward to continuing to work with the committee,” said a Facebook representative.

“We received the letter in question and are fully cooperating with the Committee on this matter,” said a Reddit spokesperson.

“We have been contacted by the House Select Committee and we intend to cooperate fully as appropriate,” wrote a Discord representative.

However, ProtonMail, an encrypted email service based in Switzerland, said that its encryption means that the company does not have access to the data in question. Furthermore, a representative said, Swiss law prohibits sharing such data with US authorities.

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