ACLU sues to get info on NSA surveillance

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration on Monday for more information about how intelligence agencies conduct surveillance.

The civil liberties group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a New York federal court seeking information on an executive order originally signed by President Reagan that is frequently used by the administration to justify National Security Agency actions.

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The ACLU in its suit said the NSA is using the order to justify the collection of “vast quantities of data worldwide,” including “nearly 5 billion records per day on the location of cell phones, including Americans' cell phones."

It also said the agency used the order to obtain “information from Google and Yahoo user accounts as that information travels between those companies' data centers located abroad.”

The group cited "recent revelations" in the press to back up its claims. Its lawsuit was joined by Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale University.
 
At issue is Executive Order 12,333, which focused on the surveillance of foreigners when it was signed by Reagan in 1981.
 
In its complaint, the ACLU said recent revelations "have confirmed that the government interprets that authority to permit sweeping monitoring of Americans' international communications.”
 
“How the government conducts this surveillance, and whether it appropriately accommodates the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents whose communications are intercepted in the course of that surveillance, are matters of great public significance and concern,” it said.

While the government has made available information about surveillance conducted under different authorities, “little information is publicly available regarding the rules that apply to surveillance of Americans' international calls and emails,” the complaint said.

In a statement announcing the suit, the ACLU questioned the lack of oversight that comes with an executive order.

“The executive is conducting surveillance under its own executive order without any real oversight,” the group said. “We now know too well that unchecked surveillance authority can lead to dangerous overreach.”