Newly disclosed documents show the National Security Agency (NSA) has continued to spy on U.S. citizens by exploiting a legal loophole. Despite government’s orders to cease, they are continuing to collect bulk records about Americans’ emails from U.S. telecommunications companies.
The documents show the NSA found a way to continue analyzing social links revealed by Americans’ email patterns, but without collecting the data from American companies and with even less oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The NSA system can still gain access to data to hunt for associates of terrorism suspects, but leaves the the bulk logs in the hands of phone companies
The documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act says, “other authorities can satisfy certain foreign intelligence requirements” that the bulk email records program “had been designed to meet.” They explain there are two legal ways NSA still gets data.
The first is the collection of bulk data that has been gathered in other countries, where the NSA activities are not subject to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and oversight. U.S. domestic data is often found on fiber optic cables abroad.
The other method is collection under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 which allows “warrantless surveillance on domestic soil that targets specific non-citizens abroad, including their new or stored emails to or from Americans.”
Timothy Edgar, a former privacy official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama and now at Brown University, says the explanation fills an important gap in the still-emerging history of post 9/11 surveillance.
He says, “The document makes it clear that NSA is able to get all the Internet metadata it needs through foreign collection. The change it made to its procedures in 2010 allowed it to exploit metadata involving Americans. Once that change was made, it was no longer worth the effort to collect Internet metadata inside the United States, in part because doing so requires NSA to deal with restrictions by the intelligence court.”
The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have not yet commented.
After 9/11, president Bush secretly authorized the NSA to conduct surveillance and collect data, bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under a program called Stellarwind.
When The Justice Department questioned its legality, Bush was forced to “officially” halt the program, but it continued to operate in secret until discovered in 2009. The NSA suspended the program until mid-2010, only to end it the next year when the new regulations which are due to end this month were put in place. This supposedly was to bring to an end NSA’s spying on the emails of U.S. citizens, but as the new documents show, the spying continues.