Privacy advocates are finally getting (a little bit) of what they want. Friday, The New York Times reported that the NSA will end its practice of collecting texts and emails by American citizens sent or received by individuals abroad that mention foreign surveillance targets.
The shift away from this particularly troublesome form of collection is an effort by the NSA to comply with the privacy rules set out by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Because of the way internet providers bundled this raw surveillance data, an intercepted message mentioning a foreign target could result in an unlawful form of bulk collection on American citizens communicating domestically.
In 2011, the NSA adjusted the practice after it was found to be in violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, but its new methods still failed to comply with court guidance.
The decision to end the practice is an effort to comply specifically with stipulations that forbid the NSA from sweeping up messages sent and received inside the U.S. as a side effect of the surveillance of foreign targets. The move suggests that the agency may have found another method of parsing upstream surveillance that complies with requirements of the courts.
While today’s decision by the NSA is viewed as a notable win for privacy advocates, it’s not quite a full victory.
“The announcement today underscores the need for Congress to significantly reform Section 702,” Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel said in a statement to TechCrunch. “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 also end policies that permit broad, warrantless collection of Americans’ communications.”