NSA Audit Shows Surveillance Rules Often Broken

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An NSA audit released last week reveals the agency has violated privacy rules protecting Americans' communications thousands of times over the course of just one year.

An internal audit leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden to The Washington Post contained an analysis of the National Security Agency's practices between 2011 and 2012.

Those NSA practices included the erroneous targeting of innocent Americans in wiretaps at home and abroad, reports The New York Times.

NSA Audit Reveals Problems

Internal documents leaked by Snowden paint a disturbing picture of privacy violations which "involve[d] unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States," including accidental interception of U.S. emails and calls, reports The Washington Post.

The report itself is fairly arcane, using a series of euphemistic terms like "incident" and "inadvertent collection" to describe surveillance activity which broke federal laws by collecting information from persons on U.S. soil -- incidents which increased significantly from 2011 to 2012.

The majority of these reported breaches were made under Executive Order 12333, which governs the nation's intelligence activities, while far less were reported under the FISA court system.

According to The New York Times, incidents involving wiretapped foreigners who traveled to the United States (called "roamers") accounted for nearly 2,000 cases in a year's time, with the report calling these episodes "largely unpreventable."

Does This Report Change Anything?

Other than illuminating a process which most Americans have come to distrust after the Snowden leaks, the release of these reports will likely not usher in a new era of due diligence for the NSA.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said last week that Congress could and should do more to keep the NSA's surveillance on the level. But she offered no real proposal as to how this would be accomplished, reports The Washington Post.

The vast majority of the incidents are being chalked up to mistaken keystrokes or system errors, so the NSA continues to believe its general methods for collecting information are legal and sound.

If anything, audit reports like these may provide fodder for future lawsuits against the NSA, but prior attempts to sue over the agency's secret programs have been unsuccessful.

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