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'Partial Fix': NSA Scraps Part of Warrantless Surveillance

"The truth changed everything," tweets NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

The NSA's change, said the ACLU's Neema Singh Guliani, "underscores the need for Congress to significantly reform Section 702 of FISA, which will continue to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans." (Photo: Greenpeace via EFF/flickr/cc)

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been forced to scrap one of its controversial surveillance practices, the New York Times reports Friday, a development the ACLU deemed "a partial fix."

Times reporter Charlie Savage writes that it regards "one of the most disputed practices of its warrantless wiretapping program: collecting Americans' emails and texts to and from people overseas that mention foreigners targeted for surveillance."

As the agency itself explains in a statement released Friday, it has to do with how information is hoovered up under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire at end of this year. Privacy advocates have described Section 702 as "deeply troubling," and it's repeatedly been in the crosshairs of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has said it is impossible to know how it may "intrude on the privacy and constitutional rights of Americans." 

Now, the NSA statement says, it

will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target. This information is referred to in the Intelligence Community as "about" communications in Section 702 "upstream" internet surveillance. Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.

Savage writes that the change was made "to resolve problems it was having complying with special rules imposed by the surveillance court in 2011 to protect Americans' privacy. For technical reasons, the agency ended up collecting messages sent and received domestically as a byproduct of such surveillance, the [unnamed] officials said."

The NSA's language refers to "several inadvertent compliance lapses." According to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that translates to "NSA broke the law."

For Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel, the change "underscores the need for Congress to significantly reform Section 702 of FISA, which will continue to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans."

"While the NSA’s policy change will curb some of the most egregious abuses under the statute, it is at best a partial fix. Congress should take steps to ensure such practices are never resurrected and end policies that permit broad, warrantless surveillance under Section 702, which is up for reauthorization at the end of the year," Singh Guliani added.

Snowden also added on Twitter: "The truth changed everything," and: "People said speaking up isn't worth the risk. Today, we can see they were wrong. Blow the whistle, change the world."

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