News Column

NSA Regularly Overstepped Authority, Audit Shows

August 16, 2013
NSA wiretap (composite image)

The National Security Agency broke privacy rules protecting communications on U.S. soil 2,776 times in one year, The Washington Post reported Friday.

A May 2012 NSA audit, leaked to the newspaper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this summer, cited 2,776 incidents in the previous 12 months of unauthorized gathering, storage, contact or sharing of legally protected communications, the newspaper said.

The most serious incidents in the 12 months included a defiance of a court order and unauthorized use of data of about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders, said the Post, which accompanied its article with some of the documents it cited.

The violations cited in the audit occurred in just one year, but other documents indicate the NSA broke privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority every year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, the Post said.

The infractions range from significant law violations to typographical errors that resulted in accidental interception of U.S. emails and phone calls.

In a 2008 case the NSA did not report to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or Congress, an agency computer system logged a "large number" of calls dialed from Washington because a programming error mixed up the city's 202 area code with the international dialing code of Egypt, which is 20, the Post said.

In another case, the court, which has authority over some NSA operations, didn't find out about a new collection method until it was in operation for many months, the newspaper said. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

One document indicated agency personnel were told to replace specific surveillance details with generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Post said.

The NSA told the Post in a statement it tries to identify problems "at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down."

"We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line," a senior NSA official told the Post, speaking anonymously with White House permission.

"You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day," he said. "You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different."

Source: Copyright UPI 2013

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