With the pubic distracted by the FBI battling Apple for an iPhone backdoor, President Obama is secretly working to trash President Ronald Reagan’s restrictions on the number of federal agencies that can spy on Americans and others.
At a secret meeting of the United States National Security Council on Feb 25, President Obama approved a draft 21-page memo relaxing a Cold War Reagan-era directive called Executive Order 12333 that restricted the number of government agencies that can access, without court order or Presidential approval, the contents of phone calls, emails and data the U.S. National Security Agency vacuums up from around the world.
The new Obama memo would allow numerous federal agencies to share bulk data from satellites, foreign communications crossing U.S. network switches, messages acquired overseas, and data shared by American allies, according to the New York Times.
Sources indicate that the Obama administration initiative is being described as giving a number of U.S. government agencies direct access to the broad spectrum of electronic intercepts in the “hope that that they will recognize any possible nuggets of value.”
But the change will also mean that more officials will be looking at the raw data in private messages. Not only would that include foreigners’ phone calls and emails, but also communications to, from, or about Americans that the NSA’s foreign intelligence programs swept in “incidentally.”
Former U.S. intelligence consultant and current fugitive from the Obama Administration Edward Snowden describes “incidental” as a code word for sweeping up all “metadata.” Although Webster’s Dictionary defines metadata as “data that provides information about other data,” the NSA expanded the term to include “structural metadata” as the location of data and “descriptive metadata” as all of the data content itself.
According to Snowden, the NSA clandestinely used “PRISM” software hacking tools to collect domestic U.S. Internet communications from at least nine major US internet companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook and YouTube.
Civil liberties advocates have criticized the this most recent Obama Administration change for handling metadata by arguing that it will weaken privacy protections, according to the Times. The advocates argue that the U.S. government should disclose just how much American content the NSA collects “incidentally.” According to Snowden, “incidentally,” to the NSA means “everything.”
Historically, National Security Agency analysts for decades have been responsible for “filtering” surveillance information, only passing portions of phone calls, emails and data the NSA decided was pertinent to colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. That included having the N.S.A. mask individual’s names and any irrelevant information about innocent Americans.
“Before we allow them to spread that information further in the government, we need to have a serious conversation about how to protect Americans’ information,” Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project told the Times.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said that the Obama administration had developed and was fine-tuning what is now a 21-page draft set of procedures to permit the sharing. The DNI spokesman said the administration wanted to ensure that privacy, civil liberties and constitutional rights are protected while the information is shared.
The president has the executive branch’s authority to change its own rules without going to Congress or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, because the data supposedly comes from surveillance methods that lawmakers chose to not include in restrictions when authorizing national security wiretapping, the or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.