According to an internal audit, the National Security Agency has violated privacy rules and overstepped its authority thousands of time each year. The Washington Post obtained the internal audit documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
“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 also indicated that employees are instructed to tone down or “remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”
In another instance “the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans” at all. Another disturbing example showed that the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) learned of a new collection method that had already been in use for months. The method was later determined to be unconstitutional.
The Washington Post counted 2,776 incidents of “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.” Some were unintended, but another involved “a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.”
The NSA claims that if the violations are put into perspective, they are only a fraction of the queries run by the agency. However, the agency only counts incidents that take place at their headquarters in Ft. Meade or facilities in the DC area. Three anonymous government officials told the WaPo “the number [of violations] would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.”
The oversight staff at the NSA has quadrupled since significant violations were found in 2009. Nevertheless, “the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012.” An agency spokesman refused to comment if the number of infractions have continued to grow.