NSA Violated Its Own Privacy Rules Over 2,000 Times

By: Zach Walton - August 16, 2013

Since the NSA’s spy programs were revealed in early June, its proponents have argued that there’s a number of safeguards in place to make sure the agency’s surveillance is under the utmost oversight. A recent report finds that to not be the case.

The Washington Post reports that it has obtained an internal audit of the NSA’s surveillance program from Edward Snowden that shows the agency has violated rules or court orders. The violations aren’t much of a surprise, but the sheer number of violations definitely is. The audit found that there have been 2,776 rule violations over the past few years.

So, what does a violation mean in terms of the NSA? A document, humorously titled, “So you got U.S. Person Information?,” points out what analysts must do when collecting information on a U.S. person through incidental data. The slide says to immediately apply “minimization procedures” and to “focus your report on the foreign end of the communication.” That’s all well and good except that the document also says that incidental data collection doesn’t constitute a violation so it “does not have to be reported.”

What’s more worrisome about this slide is that it says the NSA can keep the incidental data store on its servers. It has to mask the identities of the U.S. person whose data was collected, but it’s still there. The slide also notes that the analyst can obtain permission from a supervisor, not a judge, to unmask the U.S. person if the investigation requires it.

Besides the retention of incidental data, the leaks also show that the NSA is taught to give as little data as possible when requesting surveillance permission from the FISA court. In a perfect world, the government would hand over all the details of its request so the FISA court could make an informed decision on whether or not it should grant the surveillance request. Instead, the NSA is told to not provide the court with any “extraneous information.” According to the slide, extraneous information includes “probable cause-like information (i.e. proof of your analytic jugdment), how you came to your analytic conclusions, any RAGTIME information, classification marking, or selector information.”

As TechDirt points out, these surveillance requests are meant to provide only the bare minimum information necessary to initiate surveillance while the surveillance itself can be used to scoop up all kinds of incidental data. In other words, the NSA is subject to very little oversight by its own design.

In fact, the chief judge for the FISA court, Reggie B. Walton, told The Washington Post that their hands are essentially tied when it comes to granting surveillance orders. He said the FISA court “does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing compliance with its orders.”

Walton’s statement is a little worrisome because it pretty much says that the court knows it’s being duped, but they can’t do anything about it. The government has stacked the cards against the FISA court system to make sure that the NSA can get away with anything. It appears that President Obama’s proposal to add a privacy proponent to the court would do very little in a system where the NSA holds the power.

About the Author

Zach WaltonZach Walton is a Writer for WebProNews. He specializes in gaming and technology. Follow him on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Google+ +Zach Walton

View all posts by Zach Walton
  • Reality

    Why does this simply not surprise me. I think the the handwriting is on the wall for our nation. No one wants to admit it though. We just want to keep living our collective delusion.

    I feel so sorry for today’s grade school kids. They are the ones who will be dealing with the worst of it. We are just seeing the beginning now. What will it be like in 20 years? 40 years?

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

    It isn’t as if any rational person still believes the USA is a free country. Think about it. No-warrant wire taps, indefinite detention of citizens without charges, approval of rendition of prisoners and torture, stop and frisk without probable cause, search and seizure without a warrant, no-knock entry, confiscation and destruction of cameras that might have been used to film police acting illegally, police brutality, police shootings that go without investigation, managed news, and the civil-rights destroying “Patriot” Act.

    Acts of police behaving illegally, with shootings, Tasers, and unwarranted violence now appear almost daily. Rarely are these offenses punished. Most often “an investigation” is claimed, but soon forgotten.


In addition, the USA, with 5% of the world population, has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. That means the USA has the most people in prison of any nation in history. Even by percentage of residents incarcerated, not just sheer numbers. USA is # 1!

 Does any of that sound like a free country?

    As Dwight D. Eisenhower said about communism, “It’s like slicing sausage. First they out off a small slice. That isn’t worth fighting over. Then they take another small slice that isn’t worth fighting over. Then another and another. Finally, all you have left is the string and that isn’t worth fighting over, either.

  • @James

    I agree. I don’t think people understand the correlation between profit and incarceration. Be glad you don’t live in the state of Georgia. Here are some facts from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution:

    •One in 13 Georgians is behind bars, on probation or on parole, according to the Pew Center on the States. That’s the highest rate of correctional control in the nation and more than the double the national average: 1 in 31.

    •By far the most costly segment of corrections is locking someone up. About 1 in 70 Georgians is behind bars, according to the Pew study.

    •“It makes no intuitive sense that Georgia is the ninth-most populous state with about 9.5 million citizens but has a prison population the same as New York state with 19.5 million citizens,” Owens said. “It’s not because we’re committing more crime in Georgia.’’

    •Georgia sentences are extreme. In some cases, sentences are 140 times what other states give out for similar crimes. Many crimes that are misdemeanors in California or Wisconsin are felonies in Georgia.

    Why does this occur?

    — Georgia’s largest employer is the Department of Corrections.
    — Investment in corrections by politicians and state officials is high. Look into who owns the companies contracting with the state for prison services.
    — Georgia operates over 23 industrial plants staffed by inmate labor and requires all state agencies to buy from them. Inmates are not paid in Georgia.
    — Georgia is ranked #1 in state corruption according to stateintegrity.org
    — Police shakedown of drug dealers and private citizens for money. Go talk to the drug dealers. Police are supplying the dealers with dope, protecting them for a while, then they bust the dealers and under report the amount of money seized or do not report the crime at all. Happens every day.