Report Confirms Continued Dragnet Collection Of Americans’ Communications

June 17, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The scope of National Security Agency (NSA) domestic surveillance activities is far wider than previously acknowledged, according to a report in today’s New York Times, prompting renewed scrutiny by congressional investigators. It was first disclosed in April that the NSA was exceeding the already overbroad limits granted to it under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008. Today’s report suggests that the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails was even more pervasive.

“Congress’ concern with the NSA’s domestic surveillance is certainly warranted, if not a bit ironic,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “This type of overbroad collection is exactly what lawmakers were warned about when they passed the FISA Amendments Act. Now is the time to open the books so that Americans can see how this sweeping power is being used and, clearly, abused. How many more stories on overzealous and overbroad surveillance will it take before Congress takes definitive action to correct the mistake it made in passing the FISA Amendments Act?”

The FAA was passed last July despite opposition from the ACLU and other privacy advocates. The law effectively legalized the unlawful warrantless surveillance program President Bush approved in late 2001. It also gave the government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications. The last eight years have seen significant changes to U.S. national security surveillance policies and practices, which have been amended over and over in a piecemeal fashion, without any top-to-bottom review of their interconnectedness. The ACLU is urging Congress to conduct a comprehensive review of national security laws this year.

In July 2008, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the FAA. The complaint was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for July 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“This is what happens when the government abandons targeted surveillance in favor of a dragnet system that allows officials to indiscriminately vacuum up the personal communications of innocent Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “Continued reports that the government is collecting the content of Americans’ domestic and international telephone calls and emails by the millions simply confirm what has been apparent all along – the unconstitutional FISA Amendment Act places too much surveillance power in the hands of the government without meaningful limits or oversight and poses a serious threat to personal privacy.”

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