What is arguably the most powerful of the U.S. government’s surveillance authorities is also the most secretive, and it operates with the least amount of oversight.
Today, we’re releasing a new set of documents concerning Executive Order 12333 that we — alongside the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School — obtained in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. EO 12333 hasn’t received much public attention to date, but the government’s prior disclosures in our suit have shown that the executive order in fact governs most of the NSA’s surveillance. In the NSA’s own words, EO 12333 is “the primary source of the NSA’s foreign intelligence-gathering authority.”
Surveillance conducted under EO 12333 is implemented almost entirely by the executive branch, without review by Congress or the courts. EO 12333 lacks even the plainly inadequate legislative and judicial checks on the two more well-known surveillance authorities — Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.
Some of the most significant conclusions to be drawn from the new documents:
“It is not possible” for the NSA to adequately protect the privacy of innocent Americans swept up in its dragnet.