New internal documents provided by Edward Snowden show agency oversteps legal authority “thousands of times” per year

– Jon Queally, staff writer

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, called the scale of the NSA violations, which often included unwarranted spying on Americans, “jaw-droppping.” (AP Photo)An internal National Intelligence Agency audit and other documents leaked to the Washington Post by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that despite official claims to the contrary, the spy agency broke its own guidelines, breaking “privacy rules” and overstepping “its legal authority” thousands of times each year as it collected online and phone data on Americans without a warrant or due process.

As the Post’s Barton Gellman reports:

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.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. 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.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, called the scale of the violations “jaw-droppping.”

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