President Reagan's oval office
Reagan’s Library, from Don Graham on Flickr.

In government circles it’s known as twelve triple three,” and it’s the executive order which was signed by President Reagan in 1981 and gives incredible leeway to intelligence agencies to vacuum up vast quantities of Americans’ data. It was amended by President George W. Bush three separate times during the course of his presidency to allow for more leeway in allowing “incidental” US government spying on Americans.

Revealed by government leakers including Edward Snowden, we now know this data ranges from information about your phone calls to e-mail content. From to Facebook messages to Skype chats, and practically everything else that passes through the Internet. In other words, Executive Order 12333 allows for the collection of Americans’ data if it is collected during the course of other operations, when Americans aren’t targeted specifically. If they were, it would be forbidden under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the history of mass spying in America, I encourage you to head over to Ars Technica for their detailed writeup on the history of EO 1233.

The Document that Led to Mass Spying in America
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