- Obama’s regulatory agenda will cost U.S. economy $143B next year: report
- Patriot Act author on James Clapper: Fire, prosecute him
- Russia P.M. Medvedev: No amnesty for political prisoners
- Michigan GOP Senate hopeful reminds government is the ‘servant’
- Christmas, by Congress: Members mull a 15-cent tax on trees
- U.S. unemployment falls to five-year low of 7 percent; 203K jobs added
- World mourns Nelson Mandela and celebrates his life; burial set for Dec. 15
- Bill O’Reilly reminds: Nelson Mandela ‘was a communist’
- John Boehner says GOP should support gay candidates: ‘I do’
- Grass-Whopper: Pan-fried cricket burgers go over big in New York City
Documents show NSA overreach in data collection
Emails swept up in excess of what’s allowed
Question of the Day
The Obama administration, under pressure from continued NSA leaks, declassified documents Wednesday showing the agency scooped up tens of thousands of emails and other online communications from Americans beginning in 2008 that it wasn’t allowed to target, and was told to stop by the secret court that oversees the program.
Officials briefed reporters on the documents before releasing them as the Obama administration struggles to defend NSA domestic snooping in the face of growing national opposition and especially on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers argue the administration has misled them about the extent of the programs and the scope of abuses.
The documents, described on condition of anonymity by senior officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, relate to a “compliance violation,” which officials characterized as a technicality that ought not to provoke any privacy concerns.
“It was a technological issue that could not be avoided, rather than overreach by the NSA,” said one official on a conference call organized by the office’s public affairs director.
Nonetheless, some lawmakers and privacy advocates responded angrily, saying the declassification was too little, too late.
The documents declassified Wednesday include:
• Three opinions from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which oversees the programs.
• Procedures used by the NSA to protect the privacy of Americans when reporting foreign intelligence communications involving them.
• A white paper about the program, prepared for Congress in 2011.
The compliance violation involved the mass collection of “upstream” Internet communications — the vacuuming and copying of vast swaths of data directly from the fiber optic cables through which it traverses the Internet.
The data, once copied, can then be queried by NSA analysts looking for email “from, to or about,” the foreign target of a counterterrorism or foreign intelligence surveillance operation overseas, the officials said. Because the targets are foreigners outside of the United States, neither U.S. law nor the Constitution offers them any protection and NSA, like all other intelligence agencies, has broad authorities to spy on them.
But the searches often pull in messages from, to or about U.S. citizens as well — an email mentioning or copied to the foreign target of any surveillance can lawfully be pulled out of the data and examined, although special rules apply to its handling. This is known as incidental collection and is allowed by the law that authorizes the upstream collection program.
The special rules are called “minimization procedures” and are designed to protect, as far as possible, the privacy of Americans whose communications are swept up in warrantless surveillance of foreign targets. Their names may not be included in intelligence reports, for example, unless necessary to understand the information being reported.
But, the officials said, because of the way email moves across the Internet from the provider’s servers to the user’s computer, it was not technically possible to separate the communications that could lawfully be incidentally collected because they involved a legitimate foreign target overseas. As a result, some of the gathered email “might prove to be wholly domestic,” said one official, and therefore not subject to collection without a warrant. This is known as inadvertent collection.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...
- Britain eyes new powers to thwart Islamic extremists
- In global op, feds help seize websites selling fake goods
- Privacy board springs to life after NSA revelations
- Morocco trains 500 imams to counter spread of radical Islam
- Rice promises 'progressive' Asia tilt on women's rights, climate change
Latest Blog Entries
- Spike in battlefield deaths linked to restrictive rules of engagement
- Bill OReilly reminds: Nelson Mandela was a communist
- Activists urge Obama to go rogue, sidestep Congress
- Colorado judge: Bakery owner discriminated against gay couple
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- Obama administration issues permits for wind farms to kill more eagles
- Rush Limbaugh: Obama trying to make Mandela death about himself
- 'Hunger Games' delivers Obama's message on income inequality
- U.S. debt jumps a record $328 billion tops $17 trillion for first time
- Kill team: Obama war chiefs widen drone death zones
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
The Constitution: Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses. And how to get from here to there.
Why can’t humans just be free to be humans?
Get in the middle of all the action inside and outside the boxing ring.
Find the latest news and happening that effect those in the Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland Metro region.
White House pets gone wild!