US withholding Fisa court orders on NSA bulk collection of Americans’ data

The DOJ is withholding documents related to the bulk collection of Americans’ data from a transparency lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union. US attorney Preet Bharara of the southern district of New York informed the ACLU in a Friday letter that the government would not turn over “certain other” records from a secret surveillance court, which are being “withheld in full” from a Freedom of Information Act suit the civil liberties group filed to shed light on bulk surveillance activities performed under the Patriot Act.

This decision  in the thick of Edward Snowden’s revelations, has raised suspicions within the ACLU that the government continues to hide bulk surveillance activities from the public, despite US president Barack Obama’s Friday concession that controversial National Security Agency programs have “never been subject to vigorous public debate”.

The ACLU lawsuit  has resulted in a trove of documents from the so-called Fisa court detailing the scope, authorizations and, in some cases, violations surrounding NSA surveillance ostensibly occurring under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The director of national intelligence now posts the released documents to a Tumblr page, usually without revealing that the disclosures were spurred by lawsuits.

Last Friday, this latest disclosure with the release of 24 documents, mostly detailing Fisa court reauthorizations of the bulk phone records collection first reported by the Guardian thanks to leaks from whistleblower Snowden. Among the information disclosed in the documents, which date back to 2006 – the first year in which the program received authorization from the Fisa court at all – is the footnoted stipulation that the court “understands that NSA expects it will continue to provide, on average, approximately 3 telephone numbers per day to the FBI”.

The Guardian

Bhahara said that Friday’s release will be the last disclosure under the terms of the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“As discussed by telephone this morning, the government in fact has processed all of the remaining FISC Orders responsive to the FOIA request in this case that relate to bulk collection, regardless of whether the order contains any additions and/or adjustments to the implementation procedures, minimization procedures, and/or reporting requirements set out in other FISC orders,” the US attorney wrote.

“The government cannot specify the total number of documents withheld in full from this final set of responsive documents because the number itself is classified.”

The Guardian

So what we have here is the fact that while Obummer said the government must reassess how the information is collected and stored, the DOJ is refusing to release information.

The NSA conducts other bulk data collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, an update to that law in 2008, and under a three-decade-old executive order known as 12333, all of which are outside the terms of the ACLU’s lawsuit.

Bharara’s office routed a request for comment back through the Justice Department, which declined to elaborate on the 17 January letter.

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