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Secret documents on NSA surveillance released: Is there anything new? (+video)

The Obama administration unveiled three secret documents Wednesday that appear to confirm details of surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA.

By Staff writer / July 31, 2013

With a chart listing thwarted acts of terrorism, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. (l.), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, question top Obama administration officials on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 31, about NSA surveillance programs.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The Obama administration on Wednesday released previously secret reports and a court order that together broadly describe the legal basis for requiring US phone companies to provide the National Security Agency with the call records of Americans going back five years.

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Senate Intelligence Committee members seek clarification of NSA surveillance programs and FISA courts in wake of Snowden leaks.

The document revelations come at a tipping point, as a growing number of lawmakers in Congress express displeasure over the scope of the NSA’s two big surveillance programs. One gathers Internet data on foreigners, but it’s the other program – collecting phone-call data on Americans as well as foreigners – that is the focal point of unhappiness.

In an apparent bid to improve transparency – and perhaps assuage lawmaker discontent – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence unveiled three secret documents in time for Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on privacy rights, national security, and oversight of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) activities.

The heavily redacted documents included 2009 and 2011 reports, each five pages long with a two-page cover letter, to the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees.

“Under the program based on Section 215 [of the Patriot Act], NSA is authorized to collect from telecommunications service providers certain business records that contain information about communications between two telephone numbers, such as the date, time, and duration of a call,” the 2009 document says.

“There is no collection of the content of any telephone call under this program,” it adds, “and under longstanding Supreme Court precedent the information collected is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.”

In another document – an April 25, 2013, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order – an unnamed phone company is required to hand over to the NSA “telephony metadata” for “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

That document – in which the phone company name is blacked out – is the primary court order, which undergirds a more detailed secondary order that was leaked to the news media in June by Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA.

The unnamed phone company in the just-released document was a Verizon subsidiary, The Washington Post reported, citing anonymous sources. The secondary document, leaked by Mr. Snowden, also requires a Verizon subsidiary to hand over all customers phone logs for a three-month period, an order that has been continually renewed.

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