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Accused Bank Robber Seeks Exculpatory Evidence From NSA Trove

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Terrance Brown, an alleged bank robber, is asking the NSA to provide his phone records for the purposes of his defense. (AP Photo/US Government) | AP

Via Kevin Drum comes a story of something that was pretty much bound to happen in the wake of disclosures that the National Security Agency has been trolling and collecting the "telephony metadata" of American citizens for years. The lawyer for a man named Terrance Brown, the alleged ringleader of a Brinks job plot, is asking the NSA to provide Brown's phone records for the purposes of his defense. It feels like what happens at the nexus of a lawyer grasping at straws and current events providing him with a suddenly advantageous soapbox. It's also kind of hilarious. Here's the Los Angeles Times' Matt Pearce:

Since the end of May, Terrance Brown has been on trial on suspicion of masterminding a Brinks armored-truck robbery in Florida that left a man dead in October 2010.

About a week into the trial, the Guardian newspaper published a top-secret order showing the U.S. government forced wireless provider Verizon to hand over phone records and metadata on millions of customers daily. Official acknowledgment of a broader program shortly followed.

That's when Brown's attorney, cognizant of the fact that phone data was being deployed to make the case against his client, had himself an idea:

Investigators weren't able to find all of the relevant data for Brown's phones, because his carrier apparently didn't keep records covering the entire span of the crimes.

On Sunday, after federal officials acknowledged the NSA trove, Brown's attorney, Marshall Dore Louis, filed a midtrial motion asking the NSA to turn over Brown's phone records.

"The records are material and favorable to Mr. Brown's defense," Louis wrote, adding that the request was "not intended as a general fishing expedition."

So now, the Justice Department has to get involved, and respond to this request. Pearce gets George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, giving great quip: "This falls into the category of 'you have to be careful of what you ask for ... The government asked for complete storage of data for all citizens, and they got it. Now they're in possession of a unique resource of information."

Turley reckons "that the government is going to be very aggressive in snuffing out this request." Still, there could be some fun days ahead. As Drum observes: "[I]t would certainly be an intriguing case for the Supreme Court to decide, wouldn't it?"

NSA surveillance disclosure could affect court cases [Los Angeles Times]
Bank Robbery Suspect Wants NSA Phone Records to Prove His Innocence [Mother Jones]

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