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Newly Declassified Documents Regarding Now-Discontinued NSA Bulk Electronic Communications Metadata

ODNI: “Following a declassification review by the Executive Branch, the Department of Justice released on August 6, 2014, in redacted form, 38 documents relating to the now-discontinued NSA program [scroll down the page to locate the links] to collect bulk electronic communications metadata pursuant to Section 402 of the FISA (“PRTT provision”).  These documents are also responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.  The Intelligence Community previously released information about this program to the public on November 18, 2013.  Under the program NSA was permitted to collect certain electronic communications metadata such as the “to,” “from,” and “cc” lines of an email and the email’s time and date.  This collection was done only after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the government’s applications, and pursuant to court order generally lasting 90 days.  NSA was not permitted to collect the content of any electronic communications.  Like NSA’s bulk telephony metadata program under FISA section 501, this program was subject to several restrictions approved by the FISC, such as:

  • The information could be used only for counterterrorism purposes.
  • The information had to be stored in secure databases.
  • The databases could be queried using an identifier such as an email address only when an analyst had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the email address was associated with certain specified foreign terrorist organizations that were the subject of FBI counterterrorism investigations.  The basis for that suspicion had to be documented in writing and approved by a limited number of designated approving officials identified in the Court’s Order.  Moreover, if an identifier was reasonably believed to be used by a United States person, NSA’s Office of General Counsel would also review the determination to ensure that the suspected association was not based solely on First Amendment-protected activities.
  • NSA was required to destroy the bulk metadata after a set period of time.”

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