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Documents: NSA use of phone database routinely violated court rules

Documents declassified on Tuesday reveal that, between 2006 and 2009, the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] violated court rules with most of its queries of a phone database. These documents [materials] were declassified as a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [ACLU backgrounder]. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official website] set the standard for legality of such queries at "reasonable articulable suspicion." However, declassified document show the NSA performed searches on new calling data based on a much lower standard. This resulted in an increase in the amount of numbers included on an "alert list" from about 3,980 phone numbers in 2006 to 17,835 by early 2009. According to officials, only 2,000 of those numbers met the standard set by FISC.

The revelations surrounding the NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Earlier this week a separate declassification revealed [JURIST report] that some restrictions on the NSA were reversed in 2011 by FISC. Last week The Guardian [official website] obtained files showing [JURIST report] that the NSA and its UK counterpart compromised the guarantees that Internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications are encrypted. The files, published [NYT report] in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica [official websites], reveal a 10-year NSA decryption program, making data through Internet cable taps exploitable. In June the ACLU, in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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