FISA Court Forced NSA To Stop Illegally Gathering Email

Documents released on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Tumblr say as many as 56,000 "wholly domestic" electronic messages may have been collected by the intelligence agency each year until a FISA ruling put a stop to it.

U.S. Intelligence officials have released papers showing the NSA illegally snooped on thousands of U.S. citizens' electronic messages before a court ordered it to cease. The declassified ruling, made by FISA's chief judge in 2011, ordered the National Security Agency to rethink its methods of surveillance.

The heavily redacted 85-page document—which was released on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's brand-new Tumblr account, IC On The Record—is the first FISA court opinion released by the government in response to a FOIA lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2012.

Although FISA has been heavily criticized as a cypher for the intelligence sector, these documents show that, on this occasion, that was not the case. "For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe," wrote Judge John D. Bates in the ruling of October 3, 2011.

Unbelievable though it may sound, the declassification has nothing to do with the recent revelations brought by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. EFF staff attorney Mark Rumold told the Washington Post:

It’s unfortunate it took a year of litigation and the most significant leak in American history to finally get them to release this opinion, but I’m happy that the administration is beginning to take this debate seriously.

The reach of the NSA is certainly expansive. The agency is able to monitor up to 75% of the country's Internet traffic. Earlier this month, President Obama said he wanted to reform the current NSA surveillance programs.

[Image: Flickr user Pat Pilon]

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