Panelists Discuss the Privacy Concerns of Executive Order 12333

September 25, 2014 — Most Americans have never heard of Executive Order 12333, yet much of the National Security Agency’s intelligence gathering is carried out under its authority.

“The order has barely been mentioned in public debates, and congressional leaders … have said that they conduct little oversight over it,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor as he introduced “The N.S.A., Privacy and the Global Internet: Perspectives on Executive Order 12333” in Hart Auditorium on September 19. So it was fitting that the new Center on Privacy and Technology, launched at the Law Center in July, would jumpstart the discussion on this little-known document and what it means for national security and privacy.

Founding Executive Director Alvaro Bedoya moderated the panel, which featured Georgetown Law Professor Laura Donohue, Robert Litt of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Syracuse Law Professor Nathan Sales and John Napier Tye, a whistleblower and leading critic of 12333.

The executive order, signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981, covers the collection of foreign intelligence information overseas — as opposed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs electronic communications within the United States. 

But as Bedoya and other panelists noted, the communications of U.S. citizens and residents may now be stored on foreign servers and swept up in a collection of foreign intelligence information — without the Americans ever leaving home. While the extent of this data collection is unknown, the situation is troubling enough that some are calling for congressional hearings on the issue. 

“We are dealing with new technologies, and it’s just changed the whole game,” Donohue said, noting that foreign intelligence is starting to affect not only privacy concerns but also Fourth Amendment protections and other rights. “We’re in a new world now; this is uncharted territory. … I hope this is a conversation that continues.”

The event was cosponsored by the Center on Privacy and Technology, the Georgetown Center on National Security and the Law and the National Security Law Students Society. A webcast may be viewed here.

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