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    Washington Post: Official: Court’s sign-off for queries on Americans’ data would be impractical

    The Washington Post reports on surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, programs that have raised significant privacy and civil liberty questions:

     A senior government lawyer said Wednesday that the high volume of searches that the National Security Agency makes of a database that holds Americans’ and foreigners’ communications would make court approval for queries involving Americans impractical.

    Appearing before the government’s civil liberties watchdog panel, Robert S. Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said “the number of times we query” the database for information “is considerably larger” than 288. That’s the number of queries made for a different type of data in a separate NSA program that Litt used as a comparison.

    Requiring court sign-off for queries of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls had been the suggestion of a White House review panel on government surveillance activities as well as a number of lawmakers who are seeking changes to intelligence programs. […]

    At issue is a 2008 law known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which authorized the government to target foreigners reasonably believed to be located overseas. But officials say there are “minimization” rules to protect the privacy of Americans and there are reviews done to ensure that the agency is targeting foreigners. […]

    But experts who testified in a second panel said they did not believe that Congress intended to allow the government to make such queries. “To the contrary, when legislators discussed surveillance, they discussed surveillance of the target,” not “about” the target, said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “So I think this is an entirely foreign concept.”

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