A secret federal court found that the National Security Agency violated the civil rights of Americans when it collected thousands of emails and other digital messages between Americans, according to a 2011 opinion released Wednesday.
The FISA court ruled parts of the program to be unconstitutional and ordered them to be revised. The government made changes and the court signed off on the program in November of 2011.
The release of a key opinion from October 2011 (pdf) and other documents was authorized today by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in response to requests from privacy advocates.
In the opinion written by Judge John D. Bates of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he also says the government misrepresented its surveillance efforts at least three times from 2008 to 2011. Bates writes that the government first revealed its surveillance program to the court in 2011, but it had been collecting Internet data since at least 2008.
As reports U.S. intelligence officials who spoke about the release Wednesday "stressed that it was the NSA that brought the collection method to the court's attention as part of its regular reporting process."