Executive Order 12,333: Permission to Spy on the Whole World

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Privacy advocates and a prominent civil liberties group sued the U.S. government on Monday, demanding disclosure of how key spy agencies and the executive branch interpret and execute legal authorities that govern a vast foreign electronic surveillance program that also sweeps up the communication data of millions of Americans each year.

Filed in a district court in New York, the suit was filed jointly by the ACLU and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School and called on the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the Defense, Justice, and State Departments to offer details about how Executive Order 12,333 guides the collection and processing of billions of phone and internet records around the world.

ACLU staff attornery Alex Abdo, writing at his organization’s blog, explained that the suit was prompted by recent newspaper revelations made possible by leaks by Edward Snowden. Abdo described EO 12,333 as the “most important surveillance order we know almost nothing about,” explaining:

The legal complaint filed by the groups seeks access to relevant documents that will show how the government is interpreting the authority given to it under the executive order—which was first signed in 1981, long before the technical capabilities now available to the NSA were developed.

Part of what the Snowden leaks exposed recently was the way in which the NSA uses both domestic and foreign internet interchanges and data hubs owned by companies like Google and Yahoo to sweep up the international communications of people living or traveling across the globe.

Separate stories based in internal NSA dcouments show how the NSA is able to track cell phone locations across the globe and that Americans traveling abroad are also targeted by the same technology. It remains unclear how the information collected abroad or surveillance against foreign targets is sifted from that of Americans who enjoy, in theory at least, special protections from being spied on by their own government.


As the complaint itself reads:

And Abdo continues:


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