Report: NSA broke privacy laws ‘thousands of times’ since 2008

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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An internal National Security Agency audit found that the agency violated the privacy of Americans thousands of times since 2008 when its powers were expanded by Congress, the Washington Post reports.

“The NSA audit obtained by The Post, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications,” reported the Washington Post.”Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.”

The number of records collected per incident, however, would potentially be high.

For example, a single incident in February 2012, reports the publication, “involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy, according to the May 2012 audit. Each file contained an undisclosed number of telephone call records.”

In 2008, in another incident, a “large number of calls” in Washington, D.C. were accidentally intercepted 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.”

The Guardian reported in late June that the NSA program, codenamed “SHELLTRUMPET,” collected its one trillionth metadata record on December 31, 2012. The program, which had been active for five years by that time and is only one of several in operation, processed half-a-trillion Internet metadata records in 2012 alone.

A senior NSA official spoke to the Washington Post on a condition of anonymity for the story, which was published nearly a week after President Obama called for further transparency from the U.S. intelligence community.

The White House and the NSA, the Washington Post also reports in a follow up piece, attempted to have the publication substitute quotations from an on the record interview in favor of a prepared statement.

California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has been a staunch defender of the agency’s programs, told the publication that she was not aware of the violations until the Washington Post had approached her staff for the story.

Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Post in a statement late Thursday that the “can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate, and its reports of compliance incidents are accurate.”

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Josh Peterson