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NSA Broke Privacy Rules "Thousands" Of Times

The Washington Post has reportedly obtained documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showing that the NSA broke privacy rules covered under the Fourth Amendment nearly 3,000 times between April 2011 and March 2012. These documents supposedly show a level of detail and analysis that's not even available to Congress or the secret court that spearheads the controversial surveillance.

According to the paper, most of these "incidents" involved unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets located in the U.S. They ranged from significant violations of the law to simple typos that unintentionally pulled up emails and phone calls of innocent civilians. One instance even reveals that the NSA purposely refused to disclose that it mistakenly intercepted a "large number" of calls placed from Washington due to an area code typo.

MORE: 7 Ways To Lock Down Your Online Privacy

When asked about these critical typo errors, the NSA stated that it's 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." The agency also stated that it attempts to identify problems at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures "whenever possible," and drive the numbers down.

The actual number of incidents during that 12 month period was 2,776 in which the agency had no authority to collect, store, have access to or distribute legally protected communications. The paper said many incidents were the result of violations of standard procedure and failures of due diligence while the more serious incidents blatantly violated court orders.

"You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day," said an unnamed NSA official. "You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different."

Unfortunately, the number of incidents could be even bigger. The current group of 2,776 only pertains to the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters and other facilities in the Washington area, and doesn't include other NSA-based operating units and regional collection centers. The rate of infractions also increased throughout 2011 and 2012, so there's no telling how many more incidents have taken place since March 2012.

The Washington Post report continues on spilling classified information across four pages. Meanwhile, NSA director General Keith Alexander said that he plans to eliminate around 90 percent of its system administrators to reduce the number of people who have access to secret information. He said that using technology to automate much of the work that's currently done by NSA employees and contractors will ultimately make the firm's networks more secure and defensible.

"We trust people with data," Alexander said. "At the end of the day it’s all about trust. If they misuse that trust, they can cause huge damage. At the end of the day it’s about people and trust and I think we can get that almost perfect but we can’t solve that issue."

  • MajinCry
    People in the east start revolutions to dethrone corrupt dictators. What do we in the west do?

    "This iPhone 3000 is awesome!"
    Reply
  • jldevoy
    To rise up against an abusive government is terrorism, unless it happens outside the USA...in which case it's a fight for freedom and democracy.
    Reply
  • VegasGuy55
    Hmm, learn something new every day. I wasn't aware the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution had any "rules" covering the conduct of federal agencies. I though it was just one of several (possibly 10) amendments that enumerated the rights of citizens. I would have guessed the "rules" would be found in US Code or perhaps some kind of agency guideline. Oh well, probably not a big deal. A misrepresentation of something so fundamental certainly wouldn't have any affect on our understanding of the problem and any efforts to correct it. Yawn...Saturday.
    Reply
  • eodeo
    "At the end of the day it’s all about trust."

    I dont trust you to spy "correctly". Here's a revolutionary idea- DONT SPY on us- dumbass
    Reply
  • flamethrower205
    Meh, human error will always happen and is it that surprising/bad? No one likes to feel like their private communications/ info is being tapped to, but we protect that information for particular purposes. For instance, business transactions/ info may be kept secret to prevent competition from getting it while personal letters to loved ones are kept secret because most are uncomfortable disclosing very personal information to the general public. That said, the government doesn't give a sh!t about this information (unless it somehow links you to a crime) and has no interest in publicizing it. Calling it a dictatorship or abusive is ridiculous - Obama doesn't come knocking on your door with armed forces because of a dirty email you sent to your wife. If anything these posts calling the US a dictatorship or such show a complete lack of understanding of how BAD some governments actually can be.
    Reply
  • Parsian
    “Civil disobedience, as I put it to the audience, was not the problem, despite the warnings of some that it threatened social stability, that it led to anarchy. The greatest danger, I argued, was civil obedience, the submission of individual conscience to governmental authority. Such obedience led to the horrors we saw in totalitarian states, and in liberal states it led to the public's acceptance of war whenever the so-called democratic government decided on it...

    In such a world, the rule of law maintains things as they are. Therefore, to begin the process of change, to stop a war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience, as Southern black did, as antiwar protesters did.”
    ― Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times
    Reply
  • flamethrower205
    Meh, human error will always happen and is it that surprising/bad? No one likes to feel like their private communications/ info is being tapped to, but we protect that information for particular purposes. For instance, business transactions/ info may be kept secret to prevent competition from getting it while personal letters to loved ones are kept secret because most are uncomfortable disclosing very personal information to the general public. That said, the government doesn't give a sh!t about this information (unless it somehow links you to a crime) and has no interest in publicizing it. Calling it a dictatorship or abusive is ridiculous - Obama doesn't come knocking on your door with armed forces because of a dirty email you sent to your wife. If anything these posts calling the US a dictatorship or such show a complete lack of understanding of how BAD some governments actually can be.
    Reply
  • Gulli
    @flamethrower205

    "That said, the government doesn't give a sh!t about this information (unless it somehow links you to a crime) and has no interest in publicizing it."

    Until one day the US government decides to "help" their American corporate donors by engaging in industrial espionage against foreign corporations (ah, who are we kidding, they're already doing that), or they need something from you and will use your phone, e-mail and browser records as leverage, or they want to influence the outcome of an election somewhere around the globe (which they've done lots of times in the past).

    And in all those years the credible terror plots that were actually thwarted (so not counting mere communication with other terrorists or plots that failed for technical reasons) can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Oh, and it's not like the NSA operates for free...
    Reply
  • Zaxx420
    The NSA will just continue breaking rules and laws at their convenience because they don't have to answer to anyone except themselves...it's that simple.
    Reply
  • randomizer
    I don't think violated court orders look any different either in absolute or relative terms.
    Reply