The American Civil Liberties Union posted a trove of documents obtained in their Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information about an executive order President Ronald Reagan signed, which gives the government broad authority to engage in surveillance of international communications, including the communications of numerous Americans. One key “exemption” gives intelligence agencies the ability to get around regulations intended to protect privacy.

Executive Order 12333, according to McClatchy Newspapers, “governs” most of what the National Security Agency does, when it comes to collection of information on “Americans’ cellphone and Internet usage.”

“It is a sweeping mandate that outlines the duties and foreign intelligence collection for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. It is not governed by Congress, and critics say it has little privacy protection and many loopholes. What changes have been made to it have come through guidelines set by the attorney general or other documents,” described McClatchy journalist Ali Watkins.

As former State Department executive John Napier Tye wrote in a column for the Washington Post that was published in July, “I believe that Americans should be even more concerned about the collection and storage of their communications under Executive Order 12333 [EO1233] than under Section 215.” [Section 215 is the section of the PATRIOT Act that the NSA has been using to collect the phone records of Americans in bulk.]

According to ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo, documents from the NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other agencies, further demonstrate how US intelligence agencies rely on EO 12333.

“It is the primary source of NSA’s foreign intelligence gathering activity,” an “internal surveillance manual” from 2007 states.

A “Legal Facts” sheet indicates, “The majority of signals intelligence activities, which is essentially any and all surveillance of electronic communications, are conducted “solely pursuant to the authority provided” by EO 12333.

More after the jump

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."