US government declassifies court order on NSA surveillance as pressure builds

Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein NSA hearing

Document suggests bulk collection of Americans' phone records is 'relevant' for terrorism investigations – but critics disagree

A surveillance document declassified on Wednesday details the ability of National Security Agency algorithms and "technical personnel" to search through the NSA's vast databases of phone records from hundreds of millions of Americans.

Disclosed before the contentious Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, the April 25 document from the secret surveillance court known as the Fisa court bolstered assertions made by top intelligence officials about the restrictions on their ability to sift through the so-called "metadata" they collect in bulk.

But civil libertarians criticized the court's finding that mass collection of Americans' phone records is "relevant" to a terrorism investigation – the central contention for the legality of the bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The heavily redacted document, from April, sets out the rules that govern a related order covering the Verizon telephone provider, published by the Guardian in June and provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"NSA shall ensure, through adequate and appropriate technical and management controls, that queries of the BR [business records] metadata for intelligence analysis purposes will be initiated only using a selection term that has been RAS-approved," former Fisa court judge Roger Vinson wrote on April 25, using an acronym for "reasonable articulable suspicion", the legal..

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