The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability today filed an appeal in a lawsuit seeking information from NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies about the extent to which Americans, exposed in warrantless surveillance, have had their identifies shared among senior political appointees and other top officials.
American citizens or “U.S. persons” are often caught up, incidentally, in warrantless foreign surveillance. When this happens, the identities of these Americans are routinely hidden from government agents, or “masked.” But senior officials can request NSA to “unmask” those individuals if it is deemed necessary.
This should be a relatively rare occurrence. Yet for some reason, over a 12-month period between 2015 and 2016, the Obama Administration unmasked 9,217 persons. Former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, or someone acting in her name, was a grandmaster of unmasking. Power’s name was used to request unmasking of Americans more than 260 times.
Large-scale unmasking continued under the Trump administration, with 2018 seeing 16,721 unmaskings, an increase of 7,000 from the year before.
For four years now, the general counsel of PPSA has been seeking, first through FOIA filings and then through litigation in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., details about unmaskings from multiple intelligence agencies. After years of records searches, court remands for inadequate searches, and Glomar responses – which neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records – the district court judge issued a final order.
This cleared the way for PPSA to file today’s appeal. PPSA will announce any major developments or findings in this suit.