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19 Nov, 2013 16:07

NSA broke its own rules in 'virtually every' record, declassified documents show

NSA broke its own rules in 'virtually every' record, declassified documents show

The National Security Agency systematically broke its own rules and collected information it wasn't supposed to, according to 1,000 pages of highly redacted classified files released for the first time by the Obama administration.

The documents include 2009 court records in which the NSA acknowledged it improperly collected data despite repeated assurances to the contrary. The NSA engaged in what John D. Bates, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, called "systemic overcollection."

"Virtually every" record generated by the program "included some data that had not been authorized for collection," the Guardian cites Bates as saying. Bates noted that the problems were endemic since the program’s inception.

In one instance, the government admitted its violations resulted from "poor management, lack of involvement by compliance officials and lack of internal verification procedures, not by bad faith," the Associated Press reports. In another case, the NSA says it improperly collected information because of a typographical error.

Bates, who presided over the 2009 case, said the that fact persistent abuses continued despite repeated assurances they were being reined in,showed "those responsible for conducting oversight at the NSA had failed to do so effectively." Bates characterized his conclusion as "the most charitable interpretation possible."

Also released amidst the trove of documents is what appeared to be the original court document authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct full-scale collections of Americans’ communication records for the purpose of counterterrorism.  The so-called metadata, which provided the NSA with information about the time and place of phone calls, email addresses, ISP numbers and other “information about information,” is not offered Fourth Amendment protections, Bates predecessor Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled at the time.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released the information in response to part of an on-going civil liberties lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the government's sweeping phone-record collection activities.

The AP notes that the files released Monday night were so heavily redacted that one of the two justifications for the government’s telephone metadata surveillance program was itself blacked out.

Clapper also moved to release the documents following a presidential directive, as the Obama administration is vigorously defending its right to collect American’s phone records amid congressional and public opposition.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court said on Monday it would not review a case presented by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) challenging a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which gave the government access to records kept by Verizon Communications Inc on millions of telephone calls.

The Supreme Court did not elaborate on why it rejected the petition, although it was likely rooted in EPIC’s decision to appeal directly to the high court rather than work its way through the federal court system.

The intelligence court's activities have come under increased scrutiny following a June report by the Guardian which revealed the NSA continues to collect the telephone records of millions of unwitting individuals.

Other legal challenges are currently being contested in lower courts in which citizens are opposing the NSA surveillance practices following leaks by Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The large tech firms Google and Microsoft, meanwhile, are battling the government in the secretive FISA court in an effort to release more data about the surveillance requests they receive.