The National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on Americans. The agency was given broad powers in 2008 and has been accused of overstepping its authority thousands of times. Edward Snowden leaked information that told the world about the agency’s spy programs including the interception of e-mails and data collection of phone calls.
Snowden recently leaked documents to The Washington Post showing that the NSA has repeatedly exceeded its legal powers and broken privacy rules every years since it was granted broad new powers. The internal audit shows violations ranging from unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States to the “unintended interception” of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
The documents provided to the Washington Post showed that Congress wasn’t even aware of some of the details that the NSA was pulling from its programs. One document instructed agency personnel to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports that went to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Another document showcased the “unintended surveillance” of Americans. The Washington Post reports, “A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a ‘large number’ of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a ‘quality assurance’ review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.”
The once-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was also kept in the dark about some of the NSA’s spy programs and the information being gathered. The court did not learn of new collections methods until months after it had been in use. When it did find out about the new collection method it ruled it unconstitutional.
The Obama administration has attempted to remain quiet about the NSA. The first excuse was that “every now and then, there may be mistakes,” a direct quote from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, but new excuses and reasons for the NSA’s spy tactics on the American people are getting harder to come by. The release of the NSA audit shows that between 2011 and 2012 there have been 2,776 incidents of “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.”
The claim is that most of them were unintended and made because of human error or oversight. President Obama has announced that he would consider reforms to the NSA’s programs because “It’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence in them as well.”
Reforms may not be enough to satisfy the American people now that it is out in the open that the agency has violated numerous privacy rights and admitted that it cannot filter out communications of Americans in its “multiple communications transactions.”