There are only four countries, aside from the U.S., that the National Security Agency cannot legally spy on: Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
The rest of the world is fair game, including 28 allied sovereign territories.
The NSA has recently come under fire for its information gathering practices. In 2008, President Bush signed an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which granted the NSA the power to track the emails and phone calls of foreigners.
A classified document from 2010 indicates that FISA provided the NSA with more leeway than what was originally written into the amendment. Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor-turned whistle-blower, uncovered documents that indicate that citizens of 193 countries might have been targeted.
FISA Courts also enabled the NSA to gather information on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“These documents show both the potential scope of the government’s surveillance activities and the exceedingly modest role the court plays in overseeing them,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, who had the documents described to him.
Defenders of the NSA's actions, however, claim that the widespread surveillance might have saved American lives.
“It’s not impossible to imagine a humanitarian crisis in a country that’s friendly to the United States, where the military might be expected on a moment’s notice to go in and evacuate all Americans,” said a former senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. “If that certification did not list the country,” the NSA could not gather intelligence under the law, the former official said.
Because of the shadowy nature of the NSA and FISA's relationship, it's difficult to get a bead on whether or not any of this information gathering has any real value. And with 193 countries to spy on, I can't imagine how FISA courts could decide whether or not surveillance was legal on a case-by-case basis.
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