In a move dubbed the “most substantive of the post-2013 NSA reforms” by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency announced it would no longer collect the emails and texts between Americans and persons overseas mentioning foreign individuals currently under surveillance. Considered one of the most disputed of the agency’s warrantless surveillance programs since PRISM, which Snowden helped expose in 2013, officials revealed to the New York Times why such collections were finally stopped. Unsurprisingly, they’re ending the practice because they got caught violating a court order.
According to the Times, national security personnel argued such domestic surveillance was legal since “the sender of such a message would know an email address or phone number associated with a surveillance target” was “grounds for suspicion.” In other words, the presumption that Americans communicating with foreign email addresses or phone numbers, with messages mentioning certain individuals, was enough to at least arouse suspicion. Meanwhile, detractors noted the NSA’s collection strategy targeted what was said, as opposed to who was saying it and why, and therefore an invasion of privacy.
So the agency presumably complied with a special ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011, but found itself in trouble again due to the manner in which cooperating communications companies bundled and sent their users’ data to the authorities. A judge ruled the massive collections of seemingly unrelated correspondence violated the Fourth Amendment, so the NSA put everything from the collections into a special repository that analysts generally wouldn’t be able to access.
Except, of course, whatever protections the NSA promised to put into place weren’t working as analysts were still able to dig through the collected material. To the agency’s credit, it alerted the court of the error and, while awaiting a decision regarding the reauthorization of the warrantless surveillance program, decided to can the procedures altogether.
(Via New York Times)