Obama Administration Secretly Got NSA Restrictions Lifted in 2011


This is one of those stories that would have been sensational, had it come immediately on the heels of Edwards Snowden’s bombshell revelation about the extent of the National Security Agency’s reach into the digital lives of ordinary Americans. Instead, it’s likely to get lost in the white noise of President Barack Obama’s many second-term, Constitution-shredding scandals.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post revealed that, in 2011, the Obama Administration secretly won permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to overturn restrictions on the NSA’s power to search and store the digital communications of all Americans without first obtaining a warrant. FISC is the secret court whose sole purpose is to vet extraordinary surveillance requests from Federal law enforcement agencies.

Neither the 2011 reversal nor the original ban intended to limit the scope of NSA phone searches was publicized. The Post reported:

What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.

Together the permission to search and to keep data longer [six years instead of five] expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress. The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage. The enlarged authority is part of a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to surveillance: collecting first, and protecting Americans’ privacy later.

Those same powers had been explicitly blocked, at the government’s request, during the Administration of George W. Bush.

But the Obama Adminstration sought — and received — a reversal from the court. National Intelligence General Counsel Robert S. Litt told The Post the government explicitly requested the ban be dropped so that the government, which has all but forsaken spying on obvious targets (like Islamist jihadi extremists in the United States), could move quickly to intercept a domestic terror threat.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Paul

    With so many ways to spy on their adversaries, the Dems should be set up for a long time in winning elections, by twisting the arms of judges, snooping through tax returns, medical records and other personal information. Obama now has the ability to pick his replacement.

    • Karll

      Don’t forget rigging elections.

  • StinkBomb Jones

    Curious thing here: They got this ban lifted to supposedly protect us from Islamic terrorist threat, yet when Russia informs us of the very real threat of the Boston Bombers, FBI pretty much ignored it & the protocol is to for NSA snooping to omit mosques!!!

  • Michael Shreve

    The U.S. government. Spying on EVERYONE without constraint.

  • wavesofgrain

    It is obvious the goal of this admin was NOT to spy on terrorists, but to spy on the citizens, presumably his opponents. Corrupt, scheming thuggery. And nothing will be done! This link should be forwarded to all your contacts, especially those that voted for this admin in the WH!!!

  • momo

    Why am I not surprised.

  • wandamurline

    where the hell did this court get any opower…it certainly does not get it from the constitution. We need to kick out these judges and shut NSA down and repeal the Patriot Act.