Dem senator questions Justice Department on warrantless surveillance

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Department of Justice Thursday about how often it deploys a Reagan-era executive order to surveil Americans. 

The 1981 executive order — Executive Order 12333 — permits U.S. intelligence to share information gleaned from overseas efforts with other law enforcement agencies.

“I have long been concerned about warrantless ‘backdoor’ searches for information about Americans, particularly when the searches are conducted through communications that have been collected without individual warrants and when the amount of those communications is potentially very large,” Wyden wrote in a letter to acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente.

Wyden noted in his letter that Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) guidelines allow information on U.S. persons to be shared if the person is a foreign agent, the attorney general approves and the surveillance was done to acquire “significant” foreign intelligence. In these cases, sharing information does not require a warrant. 

The letter asks Boente to disclose how often the executive order was used on Americans between 2011 and 2016 and what safeguards are in the place of warrant. 

Quoting the ODNI guidlines, Wyden asked, “What limitations and approval requirements would apply to searches for communications that are reasonably likely to be ‘to, from, or about a U.S. person or a person located in the United States’ if the purpose of the search is not to ‘target’ that person?”

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