NSA admits breaking privacy rules on data collection

NSA admits breaking privacy rules on data collectionIn a stunning admission the National Security Agency has admitted what many have suspected all along, that it has in fact acted illegally in regards to data collection.

Following revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency had been collecting unprecedented amounts of data on ordinary Americans, the agency and President Obama have attempted to insure Americans that safeguards were in place to ensure that their rights were not being violated under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. However, it now turns out that is not the case at all.

A recent internal audit of the agency revealed that the NSA has broken privacy rules and overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year ever since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.

The documents were provided to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden earlier this summer and they reveal a level of detail and analysis than that which is routinely provided to Congress or the special court that oversees the surveillance program. In fact, in one of the documents, personnel for the agency are instructed to remove details and instead substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department of the Director of National Intelligence.

The NSA audit obtained by the Post dated May 2012 revealed that the agency counted 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications in the preceding 12 months. However, the report claims that most of the infractions were unintentional and simply a failure to exercise due diligence or violations of standard operating procedures. Among the most serious incidents were the violation of a court order and the unauthorized use of data on more than 3,000 Americans and green card holders.

While the NSA has not offered any official response to the report, an NSA official, speaking with White House permission on condition of anonymity told the Post that “We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line.”

Under NSA auditing guidelines the agency does not generally reveal the number of Americans affected in the parts of the reports that is released to the public. Additionally, much of the information is kept from Congress as well, prompting some to accuse the agency of covering up its violations of the law.

“I realize you can read those words a certain way,” said the high-ranking NSA official who spoke with White House authority, but the instructions were not intended to withhold information from auditors. “Think of a book of individual recipes,” he said. Each target “has a short, concise description,” but that is “not a substitute for the full recipe that follows, which our overseers also have access to.”

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About the author

Ryan Burgas is a regular contributor covering business and finance topics.