NSA Broke Privacy Rules 2,776 Times in Year

Washington Post reveals NSA internal audit obtained by Snowden
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Aug 16, 2013 6:00 AM CDT
Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith B. Alexander speaks during a forum at the International Conference on Cyber Security on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, at Fordham University in New York.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(Newser) – The Washington Post is today revealing some big news on NSA surveillance—thanks, again, to Edward Snowden. An internal audit and other records handed to the paper by Snowden "earlier this summer" show that when it comes to snooping, the NSA hasn't always been playing by government rules. In the 12 months leading to May 2012, the agency breached privacy regulations some 2,776 times—and each previous year saw thousands of similar incidents, right back to when the agency's powers were expanded in 2008. The Post describes the bulk of the breaches as being related to surveillance that occurred within the US, either of Americans or foreign targets.

"Inadequate or insufficient research" related to wiretap targets was often to blame, the New York Times notes. The newspapers offer a few examples:

  • In 2008, the NSA accidentally intercepted a "large number" of calls from Washington, DC, because of a programming error; its 202 area code was mistaken for that of Egypt's international dialing code—20.
  • To wit, 10% of breaches were traced back to a typographical error.
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court didn't know about one information-gathering technique for months; after the court discovered the procedure, it was deemed unconstitutional.
  • One of the biggest problems—the source of 1,904 of the 2,776 incidents—centered on "roamers," the Times notes. The term refers to foreigners whose phones were being tapped without a warrant overseas; once they entered the US, officials were supposed to get a warrant to keep tracking the numbers. Such mistakes, according to the audit, are "largely unpreventable" because of the unpredictability of targets' movements.
Click through for the Post's full story; the Times piece is here.

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