NSA Secret Warrantless Spying Rules Revealed

by
June 21, 2013

The Guardian has done it once again, this time presenting two July 2009 documents signed by none other than Eric Holder which lay out under what conditions the NSA is allowed to make use of information “inadvertently” collected from domestic US communications without a warrant. The documents detail the procedures the NSA is required to follow to target “non-US persons” under its foreign intelligence powers and what the agency does to minimize data collected on US citizens and residents in the course of that surveillance. “The documents show that even under authorities governing the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, US communications can still be collected, retained and used.”

To the NSA’s credit, the disclosure shows that data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, and the extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection. The problems are when one sees the cornucopia of FISA court-approved loopholes that can be exploited. Among them:

  • Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;
  • Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;
  • Preserve “foreign intelligence information” contained within attorney-client communications;
  • Access the content of communications gathered from “U.S. based machine[s]” or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.
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