WASHINGTON, D.C.: The United States (US) government spied on electronic communications between Americans with no links to terror suspects until a judge ruled it illegal in 2011, officials acknowledged on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The unlawful program, which involved tens of thousands of e-mails, was revealed in declassified documents from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews the legality of eavesdropping programs.
The court’s opinions are usually kept secret but the government chose to release the documents amid a firestorm over sweeping surveillance operations, following bombshell leaks from a former US intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden.
Officials said the court rulings had been declassified to better inform the public about how the eavesdropping programs are carried out with what they called rigorous “oversight.”
Under the program addressed by the court in 2011, the National Security Agency (NSA) had diverted a massive trove of international data flowing through fiber-optic cables in the United States, purportedly to sift through foreign communications.
But the NSA proved unable to separate out emails between Americans who had no links to terror suspects, and the agency was collecting tens of thousands of “wholly domestic communications” every year, the court said in documents posted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.