Documents detail congressional notice on NSA phone program
October 28th, 2013
08:35 PM ET

Documents detail congressional notice on NSA phone program

By Evan Perez

The Obama administration declassified a new batch of National Security Agency documents on Monday, many of which deal with the effort to inform members of Congress about NSA programs that collect call data on nearly every U.S. telephone user.

The documents released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper date mostly to 2009, when the administration was pushing lawmakers to reauthorize sections of the Patriot Act that were set to expire.

One document from 2011, notifies the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, of the NSA's testing in 2010-11 of a program to collect cell phone tower data that could track mobile phone users. The NSA earlier this month acknowledged it tested such collection but discontinued it.

The document released Monday said the Justice Department prepared a memorandum authorizing the program, which the document said fell legally within guidelines of another existing program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

"It appears that the NSA embarked on an effort to track Americans' movements in bulk without even seeking explicit approval from the FISA court beforehand. That is hardly the robust judicial oversight the government has repeatedly promised. To the contrary, it is further evidence that Congress should rein in NSA spying on innocent Americans and put an end to mass collection of our private information," said Alex Abdo, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project.

Another document also from 2011, is the NSA's notification to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees about a program carried out under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to collect mobile phone data, known as metadata, that includes the numbers called, and date, time and length of calls.

The collection began in 2006, and matched the NSA's collection of landline telephone data.

Most of the newly declassified documents describe the aggressive push by the NSA, FBI and the Justice Department for lawmakers to save the bulk telephone-data collection effort, known as the 215 program, because it important for their efforts to thwart terrorist threats.

At the same time, lawmakers were urged not to discuss the classified program for fear it would hurt national security, the documents say.

Earlier this year, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released thousands of classified documents, including court orders detailing the 215 bulk data program, many lawmakers said they were shocked about the extent of the program.

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