For those Americans angry with President Barack Obama for authorizing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet collection of citizens’ data, a recent disclosure should cause them to be even more upset with a former Oval Office occupant — Ronald Reagan.
In an op-ed published July 18 in the Washington Post, former State Department section chief John Napier Tye made the following disclosure regarding the source of NSA’s surveillance practices:
Public debate about the bulk collection of U.S. citizens’ data by the NSA has focused largely on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, through which the government obtains court orders to compel American telecommunications companies to turn over phone data. But Section 215 is a small part of the picture and does not include the universe of collection and storage of communications by U.S. persons authorized under Executive Order 12333.
As Tye explains, Executive Order 12333 was issued in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan “to authorize foreign intelligence investigations.” Unlike Section 215, however, the language of this edict contains no provision protecting the Fourth Amendment guarantees of Americans when the data is gathered outside the United States. Later in the piece, Tye identifies additional distinctions between the two surveillance authorizations:
Unlike Section 215, the executive order authorizes collection of the content of communications, not just metadata, even for U.S. persons. Such persons cannot be individually targeted under 12333 without a court order. However, if the contents of a U.S. person’s communications are “incidentally” collected (an NSA term of art) in the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, then Section 2.3(c) of the executive order explicitly authorizes their retention. It does not require that the affected U.S. persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limits on the volume of communications by U.S. persons that may be collected and retained.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
All that information — the private, formerly protected information of American citizens — that is “incidentally” collected by the NSA is likely to be of such enormous volume as to render even the newly built Utah Data Center unequal to the task.
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Photo of President Reagan: AP Images