NSA privacy violations: a spur for more checks on surveillance programs? (+video)
Documents leaked to the Washington Post show that the NSA regularly scooped up e-mails and phone-call metadata on US residents without obtaining authorization. The news may undermine White House efforts to shore up support for such sweeping surveillance programs.
Revelations that the National Security Agency violated federal law or presidential orders in thousands of surveillance "incidents" are whipping up a late-summer firestorm among civil libertarians and US lawmakers, undermining White House efforts to shore up support for the NSA’s sweeping antiterrorism surveillance programs.Skip to next paragraph
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Publication of internal NSA documents, by the Washington Post, comes a week after a press conference in which President Obama sought to reassure Americans that the NSA is doing its job lawfully and with oversight. The documents show that the agency regularly scooped up e-mails and phone-call metadata on Americans and US residents without first obtaining federal warrants or other authorization.
During the year spanning from the second quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012, NSA auditors detected 2,776 “incidents” involving “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications,” the Post reported late Thursday.
The Post obtained the top-secret documents from fugitive Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor now sheltered in Russia on a one-year visa, the newspaper said. Causes of the incidents ranged from “operator/human error” to technical glitches that inadvertently scooped up both foreign and domestic communications, according to the May 2012 audit report.
Produced by the chief of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Division Oversight and Compliance staff, that core document appeared on the Post website late Thursday. The Monitor has reviewed it and other available documents.
An incident is defined as any violation, whether deliberate or accidental, of court-ordered procedures that govern how surveillance is to be handled involving “U.S. persons” worldwide – whether they are abroad or in the country. The largest number of incidents listed in the audit fell under the “query incident” category, which occurs when an NSA analyst discovers that a US person’s data appear in a database among previously collected intelligence data, or when an analyst keys in a search term that inadvertently returns data on US persons.