A US spy agency broke rules designed to protect
privacy or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times a year,
the Washington Post reported Friday based on an internal audit by the
National Security Agency.
The majority of the incidents saw unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign citizens within the US that should have fallen under stricter legal guidelines, the newspaper said.
In the 12 months preceeding the May 2012 audit alone, 2,776 infractions were recorded and there had been thousands each year since Congress in 2008 gave the agency broader powers that authorized the surveillance programmes to monitor US telephone records and international internet traffic.
The revelations were given to the Post earlier this summer by former government contractor Edward Snowden, who has provided details of the NSA's surveillance programmes to media and now faces charges in US court. He has been granted asylum by Russia.
Many of the violations seem to have occurred inadvertently with typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of US citizens' data, but others included significant violations of the law.
The report pointed to the violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data on more than 3,000 Americans and permanent residents. The Post also noted one instance in which calls placed from US capital Washington were intercepted by mistake because the local area code, 202, is similar to the country code for Egypt, 20.
The NSA told the newspaper it had worked to address the issue and decrease the number of incidents and enhance privacy protections.
In a report released publicly by the NSA last week in response to a pledge by President Barack Obama for greater transparency, the NSA said it monitors just 1.6 per cent of internet traffic each day.
Obama called on August 9 for revisions to the part of the Patriot Act that authorized the collection of US telephone records and for improved oversight of the court that authorizes surveillance. He also said surveillance programmes must be more transparent and ordered an outside review of communication and intelligence capabilities.
However, Obama defended the programmes themselves, which he said "offered valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people, and they're worth preserving."
The move comes amid growing outrage by US lawmakers and allies over the mass collection of US phone records and international email traffic made public by Snowden.
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