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US intelligence officials publish court order permitting NSA data collection

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) [official website] on Monday declassified [press release] intelligence documents regarding data collection under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [backgrounder] order permitting the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] to collect Americans' e-mail and Internet data was published [text, PDF] for the first time on Monday, along with several other documents [materials] concerning NSA's data collection program. The order is published only in a redacted form, including a redaction of the date of the ruling, but permits the collection because of the type of devices used for the surveillance. The judge, Colleen Kollar Kotelly, permitted the collection based on the legal weight of the primary methods of surveillance used by NSA, the pen registers and trap-and-trace devices, which recorded the "to," "from," and "bcc" lines of e-mails but not the content. A later opinion on the metadata program stated that the NSA was exceeding the scope of their initial approval. However, the February opinion relating to the court's interpretation of Section 215 [text] of the Patriot Act [text, PDF] was not declassified.

The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday denied [JURIST report] the petition for certiorari in a case challenging the FISC's April order requiring Verizon [corporate website] to turn over data to the NSA including US telephone calls and Internet exchanges. In September the FISC released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why a NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional. Also in September the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers. In August the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].

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