Tell Obama: Stop Mass Surveillance Under Executive Order 12333

The NSA relies on Executive Order 12333 to engage in mass surveillance of people around the world. But most people have never even heard of this presidential order. It’s time to respect the privacy rights of innocent people, regardless of their nationality. Tell Obama: amend Executive Order 12333 to prohibit mass surveillance.


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Executive orders are legally binding orders given by the President of the United States which direct how government agencies should operate. Executive Order 12333 covers "most of what the NSA does" and is "the primary authority under which the country’s intelligence agencies conduct the majority of their operations."1 So while the U.S. Congress is considering bills to curtail mass telephone surveillance, the NSA’s primary surveillance authority will be left unchallenged.

It’s time to change that.

Last July, former State Department chief John Napier Tye came forward with a damning account of Executive Order 12333, which he published in The Washington Post2. Thanks to his account and the reports of others who have spoken out candidly against surveillance under E.O. 12333, we know:

  1. Executive Order 12333 is used to collect the content of your communications– including Internet communications like emails and text messages.

  2. Executive Order 12333’s has no protections for non-U.S. persons, a fact that has been used to justify some of the NSA's most extreme violations of privacy, including the recording of an entire country's telephone conversations.3

  3. Executive Order 12333 is used to collect information on U.S. persons who are not suspected of a crime. As Tye wrote, "It does not require that the affected U.S. persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limits on the volume of communications by U.S. persons that may be collected and retained."

  4. No US court has seriously considered the legality and constitutionality of surveillance conducted under Executive Order 12333.

This executive order was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, many years before the Internet was widely adopted as a tool for mass communication. A stroke of the U.S. President's pen over thirty years ago created the conditions that led to our global surveillance system. The present President could fix it just as easily.

Join us in calling on President Obama to fix Executive Order 12333 and end the mass surveillance of people worldwide.

July 18, 2019

I’m calling on you to reform Executive Order 12333, the sweeping authority the NSA uses to collect the communications of innocent people worldwide.

I’m calling on you to:

  1. Issue a new executive order that prohibits the United States from engaging in mass surveillance of digital communications.

  2. Provide a full public account for what types of information the National Security Agency is collecting on millions or hundreds of millions of people under Executive Order 12333 or any other authority.

  3. Declassify and release documents relating to Executive Order 12333 mass spying so that the public can know and understand the laws governing the intelligence community, the surveillance practices that affect everyday people, and the information that is collected about them. Documents must include whistleblower complaints that raise concerns about abuses of Executive Order 12333.

Individual privacy is a human right, necessary to a democratic society and a free world. Stand by your commitment to respect the privacy rights of people worldwide and reform Executive Order 12333 today.

Thank you.

Your Name


  1. Most of NSA's data collection authorized by order Ronald Reagan issued, Ali Watkins, McClatchy DC, November 21, 2013

  2. Meet Executive Order 12333, The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans, John Napier Tye, Washington Post, July 18, 2014.

  3. NSA surveillance program reaches 'into the past' to retrieve,replay phone calls, Barton Gellmann and Ashkan Soltani, Washington Post, March 18, 2014.