Documents released by the U.S. government show it views an executive order issued in 1981 as the basis of most of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday.
The NSA relied on Executive Order 12333 more than it did on two other laws that have been the focus of public debate following the leaks exposing U.S. surveillance programs by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to the papers released by the ACLU.
The ACLU obtained the documents after filing a lawsuit last year seeking information in connection with the order, which it said the NSA was using to collect vast amounts of data worldwide, “inevitably” including communications of U.S. citizens.
The order, signed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, was intended to give the government broad authority over surveillance of international targets.
One of the documents obtained was a 2007 NSA manual citing the executive order as “the primary source of NSA’s foreign intelligence-gathering authority.”