It’s doubtful we are even close to knowing how our government basically spies on us ““ and probably even more doubtful we’ll ever really know ““ but the news that an NSA audit found that privacy rules were broken over 2700 times a year is certainly another telling moment. Edward Snowden provided documents to the Washington Post, where the story is reported. The post-9/11 reality is thereby further revealed, though by now, probably without any real surprise, much less shock.
From Barton Gellman of the WaPo (emphasis added throughout):
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.
Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
Snowden gave the documents to the Post, which then obtained the NSA audit, dated May 2012, and listing 2, 7776 incidents of breaks in privacy rules for the preceding 12 month period. A key point: the documents Snowden provided are at a level “… not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance.”
Reporting on the same story, the BBC notes:
US President Barack Obama has defended the series of programmes described in Mr Snowden’s leaks, but has promised reforms to guarantee greater oversight.
“˜Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,’ he said last week.
In the WaPo article, reporter Barton Gellman also comments on official responses.
The Obama administration has provided almost no public information about the NSA’s compliance record. …
James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that the court found the NSA in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the Obama administration has fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks the opinion.
In a related WaPo report, Carol Leonning focuses on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The leader of the secret court that is supposed to provide critical oversight of the government’s vast spying programs said that its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans. …
“˜The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,’ its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “˜The FISC 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 [government] compliance with its orders.’
It’s difficult to know where to turn for truth. Congress writes laws, granting the NSA broad powers, but then apparently isn’t filled in on what the NSA is doing with those powers. Whatever the administration knows, they aren’t telling. And the court which is supposed to be our safeguard says they simply have to trust the government to tell them when they do something wrong. And just to be clear, post-9/11 reality started in the last administration. This is a bipartisan thing.
(National Security Agency logo via NSA)