The Big Think

August 16, 2013

Trust Your Leaders

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:36 am

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds.

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

Read the whole thing. Believe it or not, it gets worse. Related: Court: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited. “The court’s description of its practical limitations contrasts with repeated assurances from the Obama administration and intelligence agency leaders that the court provides central checks and balances on the government’s broad spying efforts. They have said that Americans should feel comfortable that the secret intelligence court provides robust oversight of government surveillance and protects their privacy from rogue intrusions.”

UPDATE: “So the NSA ‘accidentally’ wiretapped the DC area code in an election year when illegal NSA surveillance was an issue.”

This kind of behavior needs to be dragged out into the public square, aired out completely, and the relevant parties thrown in prison for the maximum amount of time. If there’s nothing to it and it’s just a misinterpretation or political grandstanding then fine- no harm done in a thorough looking-over. But if all the (growing) evidence that seems to be pointing to an increasingly unconstitutional surveillance apparatus is true then nothing short of extremely harsh penalties and perp-walks are called for. This is inexcusable– in any administration.


UPDATE: Related:

Remember when Obama said the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its powers? He was wrong.

Gellman obtained an audit of the NSA’s compliance record from NSA leaker Snowden earlier this summer. The audit, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months where the agency engaged in “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.” The audit only covered issues at NSA facilities in the D.C. and Fort Meade areas.

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