WASHINGTON — The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has launched a Tumblr blog and is declassifying previously secret documents relating to violations of Section 702 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to target non-U.S. persons “reasonably believed” to be outside United States borders.
Intelligence officials announced the Tumblr and the declassification in a phone call with reporters, but refused to answer questions about a Wall Street Journal report that shows that the National Security Agency’s system “has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence.” Officials also did not address reports that the NSA had scooped up thousands of emails from Americans with no apparent connections to terrorism.
“People shouldn’t go into a panic based on what they read in the press,” said one intelligence official when asked about the story.
The ODNI announced that it is going to declassify three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions, one from October 2011, one from November 2011, and one from September 2012. It is also declassifying the “most current version of the semi-annual compliance assessment,” according to an intelligence official on the call, as well as “significant portions” of a white paper provided to Congress’ intelligence committees last year. All of the documents were uploaded to the new Tumblr on Wednesday afternoon.
The newly declassified documents constitute the government’s admission of overreach by the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. One of the documents — a FISA opinion from October 2011 — has already been published online. The opinion holds that some NSA surveillance activities, such as “upstream” collection of internet transactions involving multiple communications, violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The officials on the call referenced recent reports of intrusive behavior by the NSA, such as the Washington Post story about an audit that showed the agency had broken privacy rules thousands of times every year. Over-collection of data and violations of the rules restricting collection of U.S. persons’ data is “not an overreaching by greedy agency seeking to spy on Americans,” said an official on the call. It was instead a “technical problem resulting in collection of domestic communications.”
“The government is really making an extraordinary effort to try to comply with the rules and protect the privacy of U.S. persons,” an intelligence official said.
President Obama had announced the creation of a transparency website last week. An administration official said at the time that the site would be “the hub for further transparency, so this can be a home for citizens who are interested in learning more about our activities and declassifying efforts in responding to queries that people have about these programs.”
Update – Aug. 21, 2013, 5:14 p.m.: The rest of the documents have been uploaded to the Tumblr and can be accessed here.