Operating Under Legal Authorities

NSA operates within its legal authorities to execute its cybersecurity and foreign signals intelligence missions.


The rule of law plays a vital role in not only the conduct of NSA's operations but also the security of our nation. One of NSA's core values is respect for the law, and the agency is committed to ensuring that its missions are grounded in adherence to the U.S. Constitution and compliance with the U.S. laws, regulations, and policies that govern its activities. NSA operates within the legal authorities that task us to execute our missions on behalf of the nation's security. NSA’s Office of General Counsel ensures we properly and reliably execute our cybersecurity and signals intelligence missions consistent with these authorities.

Executive Order 12333 and National Security Council Intelligence Directive 6

As set forth in Executive Order 12333 and National Security Council Intelligence Directive 6, NSA collects, processes, analyzes, produces, and disseminates signals intelligence (SIGINT) information for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes as part of NSA's role as a combat support agency in the Department of Defense. NSA SIGINT develops insights on our adversaries to provide the nation a decisive information advantage in competition, crisis, or conflict.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA)

The FISA of 1978 codifies rules for requesting authorization to collect electronic communications within the United States by compelling assistance from U.S. service providers. NSA relies on FISA authorizations to acquire significant foreign intelligence with the approval and oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. By law, all FISA activities must be conducted consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

National Security Directive 42 (NSD-42)

NSD-42 designates NSA as the National Manager for National Security Systems (NSS) (i.e., telecommunications and information systems operated by the U.S. Government). In this capacity, NSA acts as the focal point for cryptography, telecommunications systems security, and information systems security for NSS. NSA Cybersecurity aims to prevent and eradicate cyber threats to thwart foreign adversaries and defend vital networks.