Revelations about the allowances afforded to U.S. intelligence agencies by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court continue to unfold.
The FISA court in 2010 certified government use of U.S. companies to spy on communications about enemies overseas, according to leaked documents provided to The Washington Post. The certification lists 193 countries, the World Bank, IMF, European Union and International Atomic Energy Agency as acceptable targets.
The FISA court approves three such certifications each year. Each is signed by the director of national intelligence and attorney general.
"It's not impossible to imagine a humanitarian crisis in a country that's friendly to the United States, where the military might be expected on a moment's notice to go in and evacuate all Americans." Unnamed senior defense official
An internal transparency report from the Director of National Intelligence released June 27 shows that the U.S. targeted 89,138 individuals or groups using section 702 of FISA, which permits wiretapping of persons believed to be outside the U.S. without a specific court order.
The June report also says that the Intelligence Community only submitted requests for the phone records of 248 U.S. persons, despite, as was revealed by Edward Snowden, the bulk collection of telephone metadata on nearly every American.
Intelligence agencies sent out over 19,000 National Security Letters in 2013. NSLs are a type of secret subpoena for record information e.g. account details for an email address.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released nearly 1,000 pages of documents Nov. 18 in response to a lawsuit by privacy advocates. They show that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) continued to authorize government collection of Internet data despite repeated violations of court-mandated limits.
Clapper declassified other documents on Sept. 10 that detail a "compliance incident identified in 2009" in which the NSA violated the Stored Communications Act by collecting telephone metadata for 17,835 phone numbers, of which just 1,800 met the standard for reasonable suspicion. The FISC ruled that the NSA must request metadata collection on a case-by-case basis. This requirement was later lifted.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 18 declined to hear a case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) claiming that the FISA court "exceeded its statutory jurisdiction" in allowing the NSA to gather bulk phone records, a move EPIC says "cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation." EPIC bypassed lower courts in bringing the case.
The NSA declassified three secret court opinions in Aug. 2013 that show one program collected as many as 56,000 emails and other messages per year from Americans who had no suspected connection to terrorism. U.S. officials released the documents in an effort to show they have worked to find and fix mistakes.
The Justice Dept. had been resisting a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 2011. EFF aims to bring light to FISA court orders that give the government authority to gather data from telecom companies about subscribers and their call records.
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