US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper [official website] declassified documents on Saturday that show how the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] was authorized to collect bulk phone and internet records from US citizens without individualized suspicion. Clapper disclosed that President George W. Bush first authorized the data collection in October 2001 as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The program was later replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text], which requires a secret court to authorize the bulk collection [JURIST report]. The documents also show the legal arguments made by former intelligence directors to support keeping the NSA spying methods secret. The disclosures were made as part of the Obama administration's campaign to justify the NSA's surveillance activity following Edward Snowden's leaking information about the program to the media earlier this year.
The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Earlier this month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [JURIST report] that the NSA program of collecting phone call data is likely unconstitutional. In September the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why a NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional. Also in September the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers. In August the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns[JURIST op-ed].