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Secret court ruling reveals NSA obtained unauthorized communications

The National Security Agency (NSA) obtained up to 56,000 unauthorized communications by misrepresenting the scope of its collection activities when it requested permission to collect documents, according to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official websites] opinion [redacted text] declassified Wednesday. The NSA sought approval to gather "upstream documents," email chains that contained multiple lines of communication, under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text] but did not indicate that the communications targeted could include "wholly domestic" content. The court found the collection to violate the statute in addition to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. It is not clear how the government disposed of the unauthorized documents.

Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked debate and controversy since the leak of confidential documents in June by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month US President Barack Obama [official website] gave a proposed [transcript] a four-step reform to increase the credibility and legitimacy of the NSA and FISC. In July US lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] to address popular concerns about personal privacy and the FISC, mandating that the court be presided over by judges that are nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress. During the same month the FISC permitted Yahoo to declassify a redacted 2008 order [JURIST report] that the company comply with the FISA in data collection. Civil liberties groups, Google and Microsoft [JURIST reports] have directly challenged the court to declassify data collected under its orders. Other parties filed motions in federal court and the Supreme Court [JURIST reports] challenging the NSA surveillance program that benefited from the FISC's oversight.

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