A secret U.S. court authorized expanded government collection of Internet data for terrorism investigations even after finding “longstanding and pervasive violations” of prior court orders.
The court ruling and other documents were released last night by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in response to a lawsuit by privacy advocates. The date of the ruling by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates was redacted, though a footnote referred to a June 2010 case, meaning the decision was issued during President Barack Obama’s administration.
“The government acknowledges that NSA exceeded the scope of authorized acquisition continuously” during prior years of authorized Internet data collection, Bates wrote, referring to the National Security Agency. He cited “systemic overcollection” of data that wasn’t authorized for collection.
An NSA review “overlooked unauthorized acquisitions that were documented in virtually every record of what was acquired,” Bates wrote.
The Obama administration is fighting a global backlash over revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hacked into fiber-optic cables to get data from Google Inc. (GOOG:US) and Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO:US), and intercepted Americans’ communications without warrants.
Most of the spying was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and then Russia, where he has temporary asylum.
Internet companies are compelled under court orders to provide the NSA with e-mails and other online communications of U.S. citizens without warrants under a program known as Prism, intended to identify foreign terrorists, as long as the subject of the investigation is a suspected foreign terrorist.
Apple Inc. (AAPL:US), Google, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US) and Yahoo were cited in documents leaked by Snowden as providing the NSA with data under the program. Bulk collection of e-mail records was ended by the Obama administration in 2011, Clapper said last night.
The prior authorization of the Internet data-collection program was allowed to expire, according to Bates’s opinion. He wrote that the U.S. was seeking a new authorization that would allow an 11-to 24-fold increase in the volume of Internet data it would collect.
The history of government “misstatements” and non-compliance with previous orders “gives the court pause before approving such an expanded collection,” the judge wrote.
Still, Bates wrote that bulk data collection can help the NSA “generate useful investigative leads to help identify and track terrorist operatives.” He ordered stricter compliance procedures and barred the U.S. from using earlier-captured data that it hadn’t been authorized to collect.
The opinion was part of more than 1,000 pages of documents released last night by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A panel appointed by Obama has undertaken a review of U.S. surveillance programs and is due to submit a final report by Dec. 15.
Earlier yesterday, the Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to U.S. spying practices, leaving intact an order that required Verizon Communications Inc. to turn over records of its customers’ domestic phone calls.
The justices said they wouldn’t hear arguments from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which argued that the national-security court exceeded its authority by ordering Verizon to provide the call data.
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