The British newspaper The Guardian released two documents Thursday revealing [Guardian report] that the US National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] was granted the power to make use of information unintentionally gathered from domestic US communications without a warrant. According to The Guardian, the two documents were submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder] in 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder [official website]. One of the documents [text] providing an overview of NSA procedure states:
In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person, a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person.The second document [text] outlines methods and procedures utilized by the NSA to limit "acquisition, retention, use, and dissemination of non--publicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons" acquired by the NSA's targeting of non-United States persons. However, the document goes on to state that in the case of data involving unconsenting US persons, "such inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a United States person may be retained no longer than five years in any event." Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) [text] ratified in 2008 permits the NSA to collect large quantities of data mostly originating from foreign communications as well as calls made between the US and foreign nations.
The revelations surrounding the NSA's surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy websites] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top official have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward [Guardian report] earlier this month as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA technical worker that accessed the surveillance files when he was contracted as a civilian to work on projects for the NSA. He stated in an interview with The Guardian that he released the material because he believed the surveillance violated the right to privacy.