Newly declassified documents related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities were released by the Obama administration on Monday, Nov. 18. They include what appears to be the original secret court ruling that authorized the agency’s massive data collection program.
The 87-page opinion authorized the collection of email metadata and other Internet communications by the NSA. It was signed by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was then the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which issued the ruling.
The opinion was heavily redacted and had sections regarding details about the collection size and certain dates blacked out. The ruling was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in what was likely a response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, said in a statement that approximately 2,000 pages about surveillance information has been declassified since June.
“Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this intelligence collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States,” Clapper said.
According to The New York Times, the metadata collected included the email addresses and identities of the sender and recipient, but not the message’s contents. The information was initially used in U.S. counterterrorism programs. The collection program, which was authorized by President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, was discontinued in 2011 for what the Obama administration called "operational and resource reasons."
The release was the final round of disclosures as the ACLU and the EFF attempt to learn more about what they believe is questionable mass surveillance of American phone records.
“On the logic of these opinions almost every digital footprint we leave behind can be vacuumed up by the government – who we talk to, what we read, where we go online," said Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the ACLU, in a statement. "Like previous releases these materials show the danger of a government that sidesteps public debate and instead grounds its surveillance powers in the secret opinions of a secret court. The more we learn the clearer it is that our surveillance laws and oversight rules are in dramatic need of reform."