ACLU Files A New Lawsuit About The NSA's Biggest Loophole: The Unchecked Power Of Executive Order 12333
from the they-matter-too dept
While the ACLU may have lost (for now, though it will appeal) its case concerning the legality of the NSA’s use of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to scoop up all metadata on every phone call, that’s clearly not stopping the organization from challenging the government’s surveillance efforts. The ACLU has filed a new lawsuit, which is technically in response to a rejected Freedom of Information Act request for info on Executive Order 12333.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, while so much focus on the NSA’s activities have been directed at things like FISA and the PATRIOT Act, those only cover surveillance of “US persons.” So much of what the NSA is doing is targeted at people abroad, and for that, those US laws don’t apply. Instead, nearly all of it comes from Executive Order 12333. And, while US courts have no jurisdiction over people abroad, what more and more people are recognizing, is that the NSA is using its (even broader) powers under EO 12333 to collect tons of information on people both abroad and in the US.
Although EO 12,333 permits the government to target foreigners abroad for surveillance, recent revelations have confirmed that the government interprets that authority to permit sweeping monitoring of Americans’ international communications. How the government conducts this surveillance, and whether it appropriately accommodates the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents whose communications are intercepted in the course of that surveillance, are matters of great public significance and concern. While the government has released several documents describing the rules that govern its collection and use of Americans’ international communications under statutory authorities regulating surveillance on U.S. soil, little information is publicly available regarding the rules that apply to surveillance of Americans’ international calls and emails under EO 12,333.
That gap in public knowledge is particularly troubling in light of recent revelations, which make clear that the NSA is collecting vast quantities of data worldwide pursuant to EO 12,333. For instance, recent news reports indicate that, relying on the executive order, the NSA is collecting: nearly 5 billion records per day on the location of cell phones, including Americans’ cell phones; hundreds of millions of contact lists or address books from personal email and instant messaging accounts; and information from Google and Yahoo user accounts as that information travels between those companies’ data centers located abroad.
This is quite important for a variety of reasons, including that nearly every rationale given by the NSA and its defenders for surveillance programs under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act simply doesn’t apply to surveillance done under EO 12333. Claims such as that the surveillance has oversight from all three branches of government? That’s not true at all — not even in the fake-oversight way that there’s “official” oversight of the US-focused programs. Claims that the courts have tested these programs? Again, not so. The FISA Court has no authority over the programs that are technically under EO 12333. Basically, it’s fair game — and since it’s now obvious that these programs are collecting data on Americans, the ACLU is making the fairly strong argument that there needs to be some legal analysis — and, as a starting point, the government should reveal its own basis for these programs.