US declassifies surveillance documents from the Bush years

Politics -

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has declassified 8 surveillance documents from the Bush era following a lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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The newly declassified documents show Bush authorized the bulk collection of metadata on Oct. 4, 2001 as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The EFF had sued saying intelligence agencies ran programs that collected information on "practically every American who uses the phone system or the Internet.''

The documents declassified Dec. 21 show the Director of National Intelligence in 2007 sought to have courts dismiss the case as further lawsuits would lead to the "disclosure of information harmful to U.S. national security." The EFF has not commented on the declassified documents.

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 Aug. 21 that show one program collected as many as 56,000 emails and other messages per year from Americans who had no 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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