Edward Snowden documents show NSA broke privacy rules

16.08.2013 18:03

The US National Security Agency (NSA)
broke privacy rules and overstepped
its legal authority thousands of times
in the past two years, according to
documents leaked by Edward
The incidents resulted in the
unauthorised electronic surveillance of
US citizens, according to documents
published by the Washington Post.
Mr Snowden, a former NSA contractor,
has leaked top secret documents to the
US and British media.
He has been given asylum in Russia.
On Thursday, the Washington Post
posted on its website a selection of
documents it said had been provided by
Mr Snowden, who fled the US in June
after providing documents detailing NSA
surveillance programmes to the Guardian
and Washington Post newspapers.
'Operator error'
The documents purport to show that the
unauthorised interception of telephone
calls and emails of Americans and foreign
nationals on US soil resulted from errors
and departures from standard agency
processes, including through a data
collection method that a secret US
surveillance court later ruled
The documents offer more detail into the
agency practices than is typically shared
with members of Congress, the US justice
department, and the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence.
An internal audit dated May 2012
counted 2,776 incidents of unauthorised
data collection over the previous 12
The rate of violations grew significantly
each quarter, from 546 in the second
quarter of 2011 to 865 in the first
quarter of 2012.
It is unclear how many individuals were
subjected to unauthorised surveillance.
NSA auditors speculated the number of
incidents jumped in the first quarter of
2012 because a large number of Chinese
surveillance targets visited the US for the
Chinese New Year. NSA surveillance of
foreign nationals while they are on US
soil is restricted.
According to an internal NSA audit
report detailing the incidents in the first
quarter of 2012, the majority occurred
due to "operator error", usually from
failure to follow procedures,
typographical errors, insufficient
research information, or workload
Other incidents were attributed to
"system error", such as a lack of
capabilities or glitches and bugs.
Some data was intercepted when foreign
targets entered the US - where NSA
surveillance is restricted - but the system
was unaware the target had entered US
Other "inadvertent collection incidents"
were targets believed to be non-
Americans but who turned out to be US
citizens upon further investigation.
In one instance in 2008, a "large
number" of calls placed from Washington
DC were intercepted after an error in a
computer program entered "202" - the
telephone area code for Washington DC -
into a data query instead of "20", the
country code for Egypt.
NSA reaction
In another case, the agency vacuumed
up vast amounts of international data
from a fibre optic cable running through
the US into an NSA computer, where it
was stored and analysed. Months later,
the secret Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court ruled the programme
violated the search and seizure
protections afforded by the US
Mr Snowden, 30, has been charged with
espionage in a federal court in the US.
He is currently in Russia, where the
government of Vladimir Putin has
granted him a year of asylum on the
condition he cease disclosing secret US
government information.
In a statement provided to the BBC, John
DeLong, the NSA's director of
compliance, pointed to internal privacy
safeguards such as a hotline for people
to report NSA activity they believe to be
inconsistent with the rules.
"We take each report seriously,
investigate the matter, address the issue,
constantly look for trends, and address
them as well - all as a part of NSA's
internal oversight and compliance
efforts," Mr DeLong said.
He said the agency's internal privacy
compliance programme had a staff of
300, a fourfold increase since 2009.
US President Barack Obama has
defended the series of programmes
described in Mr Snowden's leaks, but
has promised reforms to guarantee
greater oversight.
"Given the history of abuse by
governments, it's right to ask questions
about surveillance, particularly as
technology is reshaping every aspect of
our lives," he said last week.