A report from the Washington Post shows that the National Security Agency (News - Alert) in the United States violated privacy rules thousands of times since 2008.
According to internal NSA audits leaked to the paper, privacy breaches have occurred 2,776 times in one year ending in May 2012, consisting of mostly “unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States.” The primary documents, Post story and related graphics can be read here.
The cause of the violations reported in the internal audit, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, run from benign typographical errors and simple mistakes to obvious and intentional abuses of the law, according to the Washington Post.
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"Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure," the Post article said. "The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders."
"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," John DeLong, the NSA's director of compliance, told the BBC in response to the documents released by the Washington Post.
This report came just days after President Barack Obama proposed plans to reform the NSA’s surveillance programs. These reforms include modifying NSA technology to prohibit unlawful prying and, most notably, requiring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to have a privacy advocate.
The news follows the headlines of Snowden’s asylum in Russia, where he is living at an undisclosed location.
Earlier this month, the Guardian broke the news that an NSA tool known as XKeyscore, which gives access to history searches, e-mail content and online chats of people using the Internet.
“The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of e-mails and other Internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known e-mail account (a ‘selector’ in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted,” the Guardian says. “Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the Internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.”
The NSA claims the program is only used to legally obtain information about foreign targets requested by leaders with the intent to protect the nation and its interests. The organization also said there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse, which is contradictory to what Snowden has claimed.
Edited by Alisen Downey