Privacy watchdog’s next target: the least-known but biggest aspect of NSA surveillance

This graphic from NSA internal training materials, provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, outlines the various authorities for signals intelligence collection. At the bottom, there are 'checkboxes' for target status, target location and collection site. (Source: Barton Gellman)
An independent privacy watchdog agency announced Wednesday that it will turn its focus to the largest and most complex of U.S. electronic surveillance regimes: signals intelligence collection under Executive Order 12333.
That highly technical name masks a constellation of complex surveillance activities carried out for foreign intelligence purposes by the National Security Agency under executive authority. But unlike two other major NSA collection programs that have been in the news lately, EO 12333 surveillance is conducted without court oversight and with comparatively little Congressional review.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent executive branch agency, over the last year has taken in-depth looks at the other two NSA programs. It concluded the bulk collection of Americans’ phone call metadata under Section 215 of the Patriot Act was illegal and raised constitutional concerns. By contrast, it found the gathering of call and email content under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to be lawful, though certain elements pushed “close to the line” of being unconstitutional.
Now the board is planning to delve into EO 12333 collection, among other topics. It is not clear, however, how deep or broad its examination will be.
“It’s obviously a complex thing to look at 12333,” but "it's something we'll likely be delving into,” said a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. The board has highlighted 12333 issues in the past. For example, each agency is supposed to have guidelines to carry out the executive order, but some guidelines are three decades old. The board has encouraged the guidelines be updated, the source said.
Collection outside the United States has attained new relevance given media reports in the last year about broad NSA surveillance based on documents leaked to journalists by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“Americans should be even more concerned about the collection and storage of their communications under Executive Order 12333 than under Section 215,”