Obama administration weakened NSA rules

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration weakened the rules governing the NSA, greatly extending the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans:

The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.

In addition, the court extended the length of time that the NSA is allowed to retain intercepted U.S. communications from five years to six years — and more under special circumstances, according to the documents, which include a recently released 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.

Together the permission to search and to keep data longer expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress.

There is a persistent mythology that the Democrats are somehow the party of civil liberties. It’s quite bizarre that the party of Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and now Obama could develop such a reputation. As this story shows, it is the Bush administration — undeservedly vilified for its surveillance for foreign terrorists — that carefully balanced national security with privacy.

The Bush administration went to court in 2008 to request that the court limit NSA surveillance of Americans. The Obama administration went to court in 2011 to get those limits removed. Right there is all you need to know about how the NSA scandal happened.

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