August 22, 2013
The National Security Agency (NSA) received a sound tongue lashing from a federal judge for repeatedly misleading the court that governs it about the scope of the agency’s surveillance programs, a 2011 ruling released late Wednesday by the Obama administration has revealed.
Judge John D. Bates, in his 85-page ruling for the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), dealt primarily with a NSA program that searched, without warrant, the international Internet communications of Americans.
In 2008, a law was passed permitting warrantless surveillance on American networks, but only to keep track of non-U.S. citizens outside its boarders. The NSA was able to redirect a substantial amount of international data from fiber cables throughout the U.S. into a data center, where it could be stored and scrutinized. The problem was, domestic communications were also being collected in the pursuit of foreign intelligence.
Bates called the agency’s three-year “upstream collection of Internet transactions containing multiple communications” deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds, adding that is did not “satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
“The court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,” Bates wrote in the ruling.
The ruling also revealed that NSA analysts had inappropriately used a phone log database without the court’s knowledge due to “repeated inaccurate statements” received by the court.
“Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the standard for querying,” Bates wrote, adding that the standard was breached on so regular a basis “that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively.”
The release of the ruling comes after a federal court ordered the U.S. government to release the records in response to a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to have the ruling made public. The lawsuit, which was filed by privacy rights advocate group The Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been before the court for more than a year.
The group described the release of the document in a statement on its website as “just one step in advancing a public debate on the scope and legality of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs.”
“EFF will keep fighting until the NSA’s domestic surveillance program is reined in, federal surveillance laws are amended to prevent these kinds of abuse from happening in the future, and government officials are held accountable for their actions.”
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