New Snowden leaks reveal thousands of NSA privacy violations

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | |
New documents leaked by an American intelligence defector reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA) violated privacy protections nearly 3,000 times in 2012, many of them under an interception program that was later ruled unconstitutional. The documents were supplied to The Washington Post by former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden, who recently defected to Russia. The paper published the documents on Thursday, indicating that they form part of an internal NSA audit completed in May of 2012. They detail 2,776 separate incidents of what the NSA describes as “unauthorized data collection”, between May 2011 and May 2012. The documented instances involve unauthorized interception of both email and telephone data belonging to American citizens and foreign nationals operating on American soil. The NSA is forbidden from spying on American citizens, while its interception activities targeting foreign nationals inside the US are severely limited by law. According to the audit report, some of the privacy violations occurred when foreign citizens targeted by the NSA entered US soil and continued to be monitored without prior permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In other instances, the NSA’s auditors reported “inadvertent collection incidents” relating to targets believed to be foreign, and later proved to be American citizens. The report notes that the privacy violations were unintentional results of “errors and departures from standard [NSA] processes”, which occurred “due to operator errors” and the failure of NSA personnel to “follow procedures”. Other incidents are blamed on “workload issues”, “typographical errors”, “insufficient information” or “system errors”. Little further information is provided. Hundreds of privacy violations reportedly occurred when a large-scale surveillance system employed by the NSA siphoned considerable amounts of international communications data carried on a fiber optic cable running through US soil. The Agency stored and analyzed the data, only to be notified several months later by the FISC that the program was unconstitutional. The Post notes that the number of people who were targeted in the context of these documented privacy violations remains unclear.

2 Responses to New Snowden leaks reveal thousands of NSA privacy violations

  1. All very interesting but what damage was done to those affected as they must represent only a miniscule of a trillionth percentage point in terms of bytes of data collected. Was anyone shot, tortured or falsely imprisoned as a result? I doubt it.

    Surely the focus in all this brouhaha should be not so much on the USA but on those countries where intercepted communications routinely result in murder, torture or wrongful imprisonment. Why don’t the powers that be in the US Government rather than Snowden leak what they know about what some countries do or is it all still a supposed secret? If they did then people might really take notice of and do something about real human rights violations which are not routine in either the USA/UK or indeed NATO, Five Eyes and EU states.

  2. Pete says:

    What Snowden-Guardian’s latest release lacks is numerical context. OK its “2,776 separate incidents of “unauthorized data collection”” out of how many events 100,000? One million? 10 million? 2,776 may or may not be miniscule. Even though the number of incidents is increasing each year is the total number of “correct” events increasing faster – making “unauthorized data collection” a smaller percentage?

    On positives there is auditing, identification and recording of “unauthorized data collection”. These represents positives and shows the system is imperfect like any system.

    There may be many inevitable reasons for “unauthorized data collection” including ambiguities in the nationalities of personal data – for example how “American” is someone based on changing visa or citizenship status? When did their citizenship change vis a vis terms of warrants or other authorization system?

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