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Snowden Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance

In Post-9/11 Domestic Anti-Terrorism Efforts on June 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

From the NYTimes:

Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance

By SCOTT SHANE

WASHINGTON — Since the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance documents by the British newspaper The Guardian began this month, President Obama, top intelligence officials and members of Congress have repeatedly assured Americans that they are not the target of the N.S.A.’s sweeping electronic collection system.

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said when the news broke.

But as experts on American intelligence knew, that was not the whole story. It left out what N.S.A. officials have long called “incidental” collection of Americans’ calls and e-mails — the routine capture of Americans’ communications in the process of targeting foreign communications.

On Thursday, in the latest release of documents supplied by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now believed to be hiding in Hong Kong, The Guardian published two documents setting out the detailed rules governing the agency’s intercepts. Dated 2009 and signed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., they advise N.S.A. eavesdroppers on how to judge whether a target is a foreigner overseas, and therefore fair game, and what to do when they pick up Americans at home or abroad.

They show, for example, that N.S.A. officers who intercept an American online or on the phone — say, while monitoring the phone or e-mail of a foreign diplomat or a suspected terrorist — can preserve the recording or transcript if they believe the contents include “foreign intelligence information” or evidence of a possible crime. They can likewise preserve the intercept if it contains information on a “threat of serious harm to life or property” or sheds light on technical issues like encryption or vulnerability to cyberattacks.

And while N.S.A. analysts usually have to delete Americans’ names from the reports they write, there are numerous exceptions, including cases where there is evidence that the American in the intercept is working for a terrorist group, foreign country or foreign corporation.

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