NSA spying files: Phone-record collection violated laws for three years

The NSA’s spying programs are supposed to be checked by a special court, but newly released documents show its collection of phone records from 2006 to 2009 violated court-approved privacy protections. It’s just the latest proof that the agency takes plenty of liberties; last month we wrote about thousands of rule violations surrounding the interception of phone calls and emails since 2008, as reported by the Washington Post.

One of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s judges, Reggie B. Walton, says “it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall [phone records] regime has never fully functioned effectively.” As the Washington Post points out in a separate article, the court has said it lacks the resources to verify NSA assertions.

As the court documents were released Tuesday as part of lawsuits brought by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, national intelligence officials reportedly downplayed the significance of the news, contending the illegal phone records collection stemmed from the NSA’s lack of full understanding of the surveillance program. There was no “intentional effort” to flout the law, they said, according to Ars Technica.

That echoes NSA Director Keith B. Alexander’s suggestion to the FISA court that NSA personnel believed different rules existed for different records databases — something Walton doesn’t quite believe. “That interpretation of the court’s orders strains credulity,” Walton said, according to the Post.

By the way, the Wall Street Journal points out that Alexander said the following in June: “This is not a program where we are out freewheeling it. It is a well-overseen and a very focused program.”

 

Photo: General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, appears before the House Select Intelligence Committee June 18, 2013 in Washington. (MCT archives)

 

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