The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has admitted that recent surveillance efforts violated the Constitutional prohibitions on unlawful search and seizure on at least one occasion.
The admission comes in a letter declassifying statements that a top U.S. Senator wished to make public in order to call attention to the government’s 2008 expansion of its key surveillance law.
“On at least one occasion,” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that “minimization procedures” used by the government while it was collecting intelligence were “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Minimization refers to how long the government may retain the surveillance data it collects. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees our rights against unreasonable searches.
There was no specification as to how extensive this “unreasonable” surveillance was; when it occurred; or how many Americans were affected by it.
In the letter, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asserts a serious federal sidestep of a major section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
That section, known as Section 702 and passed in 2008, sought to legalize the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance efforts. The 2008 law permitted intelligence officials to conduct surveillance on the communications of “non-U.S. persons,” when at least one party on a call, text or email is “reasonably believed” to be outside of the United States. Government officials conducting such surveillance no longer have to acquire a warrant from the FISA Court stating the name of the individual under surveillance. Only a “significant purpose” of the surveillance has to be the acquisition of “foreign intelligence,” a weaker standard than before 2008.
Wyden says that the government’s use of the expanded surveillance authorities “has sometimes circumvented the spirit of the law”. The office does not challenge the statement about the FISA Court on at least one occasion finding the surveillance to conflict with the Fourth Amendment.
Suspicions about abuse of the government’s new surveillance powers go back to 2009 when citing anonymous sources the New York Times reported that “the N.S.A. had been engaged in ‘overcollection’ of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic,”. The Justice Department said that it already resolved the problem.
Wyden has been the lone congressional voice against renewing the government’s broadened surveillance powers. Last month, he quietly used a parliamentary maneuver to stall the renewal after it passed a key Senate committee.