Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

N.S.A. Broke Privacy Rules Repeatedly, Report Shows ; Audit of U.S. Spy Agency Reveals Breaches, Many Attributed to Mistakes

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

N.S.A. Broke Privacy Rules Repeatedly, Report Shows ; Audit of U.S. Spy Agency Reveals Breaches, Many Attributed to Mistakes

Article excerpt

The violations, often inadvertent, cast new light on the agency's potential for intrusions on Americans' communications.

The National Security Agency violated privacy rules protecting the communications of Americans and others on domestic soil 2,776 times over a one-year period, according to an internal audit leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden and made public.

The violations, according to the May 2012 audit, stemmed largely from operator and system errors like "inadequate or insufficient research" when selecting wiretap targets.

The largest number of episodes -- 1,904 -- appeared to be "roamers," in which a foreigner whose cellphone was being wiretapped without a warrant came to the United States, where individual warrants are required. A spike in such problems in a single quarter, the report said, could be because of Chinese citizens visiting friends and family for the Lunar New Year holiday.

"Roamer incidents are largely unpreventable, even with good target awareness and traffic review, since target travel activities are often unannounced and not easily predicted," the report says.

The report and several other documents leaked by Mr. Snowden were published Thursday by The Washington Post. They shed new light on the intrusions into privacy that N.S.A. surveillance can entail, and how the agency handles violations of its rules.

Mr. Snowden, who was recently granted temporary asylum in Russia, is believed to have given the documents to The Post months ago.

The Post, which did not publish every document upon which its accompanying article relied, cited other problems with the surveillance. In one case in 2008 that was not reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or Congress, it said, the system recorded a "large number" of calls dialed from Washington because of a programming error mixing up the district's area code, 202, with the international dialing code of Egypt, 20.

Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union said that while some of the compliance violations were more troubling than others, the sheer number of them was "jaw dropping. …

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