The National Security Agency unlawfully gathered as many as tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans as part of a now-discontinued collection program, according to a 2011 secret court opinion.
The 86-page opinion, which was declassified by U.S. intelligence officials Wednesday, explains why the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled the collection method unconstitutional. The judge, John D. Bates, found that the government had “advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.”
Under the program, the NSA for three years diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and for the selection of foreign communications, rather than domestic ones. But in practice, the NSA was unable to filter out the communications between Americans.
According to NSA estimates, the agency may have been collecting as many as 56,000 “wholly domestic” communications each year.
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