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Privacy Groups Question Obama’s Orders to NSA to Spy on Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – EPIC, a national organization that monitors and reports on privacy issues, is asking to see copies of what it calls a “secret law” announced by Barack Obama regarding the National Security Agency and the extent of its reach into private Internet communications.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C that was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values.

The letter submitted this week is a request for the public release of Presidential Policy Directive 20. “On Nov. 14, 2012, the Washington Post reported President Obama had signed Presidential Policy Directive 20 … in October. According to the Washington Post, the directive ‘enables the military to act more aggressively to thwart cyber attacks on the nation’s web of government and private computer networks.’ The text of the directive has not been made public,” the letter explains.

EPIC notes that the Post reported how previous attempts by the president to expand the military’s cyber security authority had been rejected as posing “unacceptable risks” and potentially “harmful consequences.” The EPIC letter also points out that the directive “may violate federal law that prohibits military deployment within the United States without congressional approval.”

The organization noted that it took similar action, which was unsuccessful, when President George W. Bush issued a directive (54) in 2008, which defined the cyber security authority of the NSA. EPIC noted that [the older directive] is equivalent to “secret law,” the very thing the “FOIA seeks to prevent.”

“Transparency in cyber security is crucial to the public’s ability to monitor the government’s national security efforts and ensure that federal agencies respect privacy rights and comply with their obligations under the Privacy Act,” EPIC wrote. “This FOIA request involves information on the National Security Agency’s authority to invade civilian Internet networks. Responsive documents will hold a great informative value regarding activities of the government that will have a significant public impact.”

The letter further argued: “There is a particular urgency for the public to obtain information about the NSA’s cyber security activities within the United States. As previously discussed, numerous bills are currently being considered by Congress to address U.S. cyber security policy. In order for meaningful public comment on these bills, as well as subsequent cyber security measures, the public must be aware of the authority that the president’s directive establishes.”

According to EPIC, the potential for abuse is immense.

“The NSA has an almost boundless capacity to intercept private communications. The need to establish effective oversight for government surveillance, including matters involving national security, is well-understood and a long-standing concern.”

The organization noted it also has sought public release of the technical arrangement between the NSA and Google that was adopted in 2010, because federal law prevents the agency, a part of the Department of Defense, from conducting operations within the U.S.

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