If you follow the news, you might have thought the National Security Agency (NSA) suddenly had a change of heart by halting its infamous surveillance program. But despite the misleading headlines, the unconstitutional collection of bulk data remains in place. The NSA just doesn’t justify it using Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Instead, it bases its harvesting of information using its own interpretation of the obscure Executive Order 12333.
According to CNN, the agency put an end to the program allowing for the bulk data collections of U.S. domestic phone records in recent months because Section 215 requires reauthorization, and the President Donald Trump administration is not contemplating its renewal.
Previously, the rule that allegedly gave NSA its surveillance powers had been authorized by President Barack Obama following the disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
But despite the administration’s apparent lack of interest in seeking renewed authorization for Section 215, it’s been clear for quite some time that the spy agency never relied on that rule alone to collect private data. Instead, it’s always based its surveillance on the government’s legal interpretation of Executive Order 12333, which was originally issued by President Ronald Reagan.
It is 12333, not Section 215, that secured the NSA’s authority. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the government was always reluctant in being open about this fact.
NSA Won’t Discus 12333
Thanks to the 1981 order, NSA conducts warrantless surveillance, which occurs mostly outside of the United States but that ends up covering many of the communications of U.S. persons. After all, technology and advanced communication tools do not have to store information domestically.
As messages and calls are routed and sent back and forth between different countries, the surveillance powers that be have access to data being produced by Americans with ease. And it is precisely because of EO 12333 that the NSA manages to collect nearly 5 billion phone location records per day, as well as contact information from millions of email and other messaging accounts.
According to the ACLU, even Google and Yahoo user data is intercepted using this order.
Unfortunately, the agency is notorious for not disclosing any details about the obscure rule and how it’s used to justify the NSA’s unchecked programs. And thanks to the lack of Congress oversight, it’s extremely difficult for privacy advocates to unveil more details on the directive.
As explained by former intelligence officials themselves, whether it was Reagan issuing the 12333 order or President George W. Bush strengthening it twice following the 9/11 attacks, every time the executive branch expands the state’s surveillance powers it does so by claiming America is under threat. As such, Americans are told they must relinquish their freedoms in order to remain safe.
In the end, government’s justifications never rely on facts as the powers granted to the state end up making Americans less safe.