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The authority used by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence monitor telephone conversations as part of a program to spy on Americans expired Friday.
No problem. Under orders from the Obama administration, the program simply instructed the secret court that allows such invasion of the rights of Americans to reauthorize the classified program that many Americans, as well as members of Congress, think is illegal.
The secret court did what it was told and renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
One small problem. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is being used to spy on Americans, not foreign citizens, and it was one of two secret spy programs of the National Security Agency that was revealed by former contract worker Edward Snowden.
In at statement actually publicly released, the ODNI said it was disclosing the renewal as part of an effort at “greater transparency” following Snowden’s disclosure of the telephone data collection and email surveillance programs.
A top official said earlier on Friday that intelligence officials were working to declassify information on the programs that Snowden had already partially disclosed.
The Obama administration, continuing an assault on American freedoms launched by former President George W. Bush, came under public scrutiny and scorn after Snowden began leaking classified information about telephone and email collection programs.
Obama officials have been trying to justify the programs as legal, particularly under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which requires a secret court to approve all such programs.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last week sided with Yahoo Inc and ordered the Obama administration to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying Prism, the data collection program revealed last month by Snowden.
The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government has rationalized its spy agencies’ data collection programs under FISA.
“One of the hurdles to declassification earlier was that the existence of the programs was classified,” Robert Litt, general counsel, said in response to questions after a speech at the Brookings Institution. “It’s very hard to think about releasing the opinion that says a particular program is legal if you’re not going to disclose what the program is. Now that the program has been declassified, we’re going back and we’re looking at these opinions.”
Litt said intelligence officials were looking across the spectrum of its activities to see what could be declassified.
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