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NSA Declassifies 12 Years Of Internal Reports

Monday, January 26th, 2015

In a surprising move, the National Security Agency (NSA) has decided to declassify more than a decade of internal reports. The intelligence agency chose the occasion of Christmas for releasing the reports and caught everyone, including the citizens, politicians and privacy advocates, by surprise. The reports, consisting of thousands of pages, highlight some of the surveillance practices followed by the agency as well as list down the privacy breaches that occurred due to errors made by its employees.

The reports were released in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the NSA. The document cache consists of quarterly as well as some annual reports that were prepared between 2001 to 2013 and it was originally meant for the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB). As you might be aware, IOB advises the U.S. President about the analysis, estimates and quality of intelligence collection as well as other types of intelligence and counterintelligence activities. While the ACLU lawyers hoped that the reports would be handed over to them by 22nd December, NSA waited until the Christmas Eve to dump the documents upon unsuspecting Americans. By releasing the documents right in the middle of the holiday season, the agency certainly hoped that people would not get much time to pore over the contents of the reports and its own misdeeds would go unnoticed.

The declassified documents contain lots of shocking details regarding how the NSA employees misuse their powers. The reports list down several instances of the NSA staff collecting emails and phone numbers without permission, conducting unauthorized surveillance of U.S. citizens, trying to access the search database without adequate security clearances as well as spying on spouses or love interests. One document shows how an intern reported one of his colleagues for spying on his girlfriend, another lists down an incident where an analyst was reprimanded after she conducted a search on her spouse’s telephone records, yet another report shows how one soldier was demoted for conducting surveillance of his spouse while a fourth document shows how an analyst lost his security clearance for trying to find out the phone number of his friend’s son.

While the reports contain juicy details about the misconduct of NSA employees, they do not reveal their identities or other personal details. The reports also show how surveillance errors, such as instances of communication data being wrongly intercepted, are marked as “human errors” and the data collected is deleted from the agency’s servers. However, a few reports also highlight that some of the personal data which was inadvertently collected remained on NSA’s severs well past the data deletion date and was, in fact, never deleted.

After the documents were made public, a NSA spokesperson tried to defend the agency’s surveillance practices by claiming that the agency takes great care to ensure compliance with laws, regulations and the Constitution. The spokesperson further mentioned that unintentional monitoring of U.S. citizens happened due to technical or human errors and all intentional data breaches were fully investigated and reported to appropriate authorities.

January 26, 2015

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