NSA breaks privacy laws thousands of times a year

We have been assured repeatedly that American’s have nothing to fear from the NSA and that the  organization is subject to strict oversight in order to avoid privacy breaches.

Yet, reporting in today’s Washington Post, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, blows the lid off that lie. In fact, the NSA has been cited for thousands of violations every year since 2008.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute 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 the 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.

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In what appears to be one of the most serious violations, the NSA diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and selection.

The operation to obtain what the agency called “multiple communications transactions” collected and commingled U.S. and foreign e-mails, according to an article in SSO News, a top-secret internal newsletter of the NSA’s Special Source Operations unit. NSA lawyers told the court that the agency could not practicably filter out the communications of Americans.

In October 2011, months after the program got underway, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the collection effort was unconstitutional. The court said that the methods used were “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds,” according to a top-secret summary of the opinion, and it ordered the NSA to comply with standard privacy protections or stop the program.

You can read one audit of privacy breaches here, and shows 2,776 breaches during 2012.  But note that this report covers only operations in the Washington area and analysts believe that the numbers would be much, much higher if the report covered all NSA operations.

Last month,  Deputy Attorney General James Cole, when asked about the number of errors made, said: “Every now and then, there may be a mistake.” This is a perfect example of the lack of candor and consistent misleading statements made by the NDA and the FBI.

The Post also states that Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, did not even receive a copy of the 2012 report until after the Post ask her about it. There is oversight for you.

Do yourself a favor and read the full article.