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Americans have long been under the impression that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) protects them and their personal data from unwarranted spying. But some documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden say that now the law allows spying and sharing of personal data. These documents reveal that a special law allows the CIA, FBI and NSA to share data that includes private details of innocent Americans. This secret Raw Take order by FISA has been in effect since July 22, 2002.
FISC Change to 1978 Law Allows Spying and Personal Data Sharing
Prior to 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) restricted data gathering and sharing among intelligence agencies. What we knew is that the law allows spying if an agency has a court order to do a wiretap. An agency was allowed to collect data on an American only under strict circumstances. If any other innocent people were involved, their personal details had to be removed from the records before sharing the data with other agencies. The personal details of the terrorism suspects being tapped that had no bearing on the case at hand were to also be struck out.
In 2002, then President Bush pushed for rulings that would allow intelligence agencies to share raw data. He wanted the CIA, FBI and NSA to be able to scrutinize surveillance footage to scrape up any evidence regarding Al Qaeda terrorism. The Raw Take order took effect on July 22, 2002, giving unprecedented powers to intelligence agencies. Now the law allows spying and private data sharing. It is one of the rulings of FISC that would have been kept secret until now if not for the Snowden leaks. The documents on the Raw Take order support Snowden’s claims that NSA agents are allowed access to the raw personal details of innocent American citizens. And that this data gathering and sharing is a severe violation to their privacy rights.
The FISA Raw Take Order
One of the FISC decrees under the Raw Take order that has extended intelligence agency powers since 2001 is called the Large Content FISA order. Along with a number of other decrees, it shows how FISC grew from merely evaluating surveillance requests. It began trying to find loopholes in US privacy law that would allow intelligence agencies to gather personal data. FISC is no longer the body that regulates mass surveillance but one that justifies it. The law allows spying and the unregulated sharing of the personal details of Americans. 2002 Raw Take order, 2004 PR/TT FISA and 2006 BR FISA decrees on mass data gathering clearly show this.
A handful of government officials supported the Raw Take order while privacy advocates commented on the risks. The order made it easier for intelligence agencies to find evidence on terrorist suspects. But groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center warned that lifting privacy restrictions was dangerous. FISA protects Americans against abuses, and Raw Take loosened that. At the very least, the order should have not been kept secret, commented EPIC’s executive Director Marc Rotenberg. Intelligence agencies had a history of being too free with the data that they passed around. FISA was born to regulate their distribution of people’s personal data. With Raw Take, there was no more assurance that the CIA, FBI or NSA would conform to the guidelines strictly set forth by the original 1978 FISA. There have been over 21,000 taps approved by FISA since 2002. We still do not know how many people’s personal details have been exposed for each of these taps. The NSA was furthermore granted powers in 2007 to tap suspects without warrants. The above does not include all the personal details gathered from email and overseas phone calls in the seven years since this power was granted.
Official: Court’s sign-off for queries on Americans’ data would be impractical
N.S.A. Memo Expands Access to FISA Information
2002 – NSA can share data about Americans without Justice Department Approval
Secret FISA court demanded data on 35,000 AT&T customers