Turning a corner on the invasion of privacy?

In a small step to improve transparency, the U.S. government has released a two-year-old opinion by its secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealing that “the National Security Agency unlawfully gathered tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans” The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2013. Perhaps it was pushed to preempt Edward Snowden from doing so before it did. But it was also in response to a year old Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“It’s unfortunate it took a year of litigation and the most significant leak in American history to finally get them to release this opinion,” said foundation staff attorney Mark Rumold, “but I’m happy that the administration is beginning to take this debate seriously.”

In the October 3, 2011, opinion, John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote: “The court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program…. NSA’s knowing acquisition of tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications through its upstream collection is a cause of concern for the court.” Bates also noted that the court’s authorization of the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone-call records was “premised on a flawed depiction of how the NSA” uses the data. “This misperception by the FISC existed from the inception of its authorized collection in May 2006, buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements made in the government’s submissions, and despite a government-devised and court-mandated oversight regime.”

That is a mouth full and it is encouraging that the government has finally shared the court’s opinion with the public. It is in sharp contrast with the disclaimers of any wrong doing it was issuing a few weeks ago.

About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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