Privacy Law

Court's secret 'Raw Take' order allowed sharing of personal information by intelligence agencies

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Documents leaked by Edward Snowden help show how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court evolved from its original mission of approving wiretap requests to opinions justifying activities such as the bulk collection of data about email and phone calls.

The New York Times reports on the disclosures and one of the court’s early classified rulings expanding government power: the so-called “Raw Take” order issued in July 2002.

According to the Times, the Raw Take order allowed intelligence officials working at the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency to share unfiltered personal information. Previously agencies were generally allowed to share information from court-approved wiretaps only after deleting irrelevant private details and shielding the names of innocent Americans who came into contact with terrorism suspects. The Raw Take order also relaxed restrictions on sharing Americans’ private information with foreign governments, the story says.

Snowden documents also refer to a collection of orders dubbed the “Large Content FISA.” Unidentified officials told the Times that the January 2007 orders authorized the Bush administration to continue its warrantless wiretap program. The Bush administration had sought a ruling authorizing the program after details were disclosed by the New York Times. Congress later passed legislation authorizing the program.

A later secret opinion issued in 2008 clarified information sharing permitted under the new law, while a fourth decision apparently issued in early 2012 allowed sharing with a fourth agency, the National Counterterrorism Center.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Jameel Jaffer told the Times the government had cited restrictions that minimized information sharing to justify its surveillance program. “It seems that at the same time the government has been touting the minimization requirements to the public, it’s been trying behind closed doors to weaken those requirements,” he said.

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