Released Documents Show More Section 702 Violations By The NSA

from the wherein-NSA-PR-does-more-minimization-than-NSA-analysts dept

Always lawful and subject to strict oversight. Those are the NSA’s defenses any time someone leaks something about its surveillance programs or obtains documents indicating abuse of snooping powers. It gets a little old when it’s document after document showing the astonishing breadth of the NSA’s surveillance programs or the continual abuse and misuse of these powers.

The Hill has dug through some recently-released documents and memos from the NSA which show long-term abuse of surveillance programs. The NSA recently ditched part of its Section 702 collection because it just couldn’t stop hoovering up Americans’ communications. This was “incidental,” according to the NSA, and supposedly impossible to stop. But the incidents detailed in these documents suggest a lot of over-collection happened because no one noticed and, if anyone did, no one cared.

They detail specific violations that the NSA or FBI disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or the Justice Department’s national security division during President Obama’s tenure between 2009 and 2016. The intelligence community isn’t due to report on compliance issues for 2017, the first year under the Trump administration, until next spring.

The NSA says that the missteps amount to a small number — less than 1 percent — when compared to the hundreds of thousands of specific phone numbers and email addresses the agencies intercepted through the so-called Section 702 warrantless spying program created by Congress in late 2008.

This is about the only place where any American can become part of the “one percent:” as the unwitting subject of NSA surveillance. NSA spokesman Michael Halbig says evidence of misuse is a sign the oversight is working. But oversight is also supposed to aid in prevention, not just detection of past misuse. And the NSA’s internal oversight isn’t nearly as “robust” as Halbig attempts to portray it.

The Hill reviewed the new ACLU documents as well as compliance memos released by the NSA inspector general and identified more than 90 incidents where violations specifically cited an impact on Americans. Many incidents involved multiple persons, multiple violations or extended periods of time.

For instance, the government admitted improperly searching the NSA’s foreign intercept data on multiple occasions, including one instance in which an analyst ran the same search query about an American “every work day” for a period between 2013 and 2014.

The NSA also passed on intel to the FBI and CIA without properly minimizing it and made other dissemination errors. The documents show the NSA was also slow to inform other agencies of its minimization failures. Notification is supposed to made within five days of discovery, but in some cases it took the NSA more than three months to inform intel recipients of the error.

This information has been released at a critical time for the NSA. Section 702 powers are sunsetting this year and could be subject to additional modifications prior to their renewal. The FBI –perhaps even more than the NSA — is looking for a clean reauthorization of Section 702 programs. This administration favors a clean re-auth, which means complaints about a 1% violation rate aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind. But 1% of several hundred million yearly searches is still a very large number of violations. If Google or Microsoft suffered a breach affecting the privacy of 1% of its users, it would be a huge problem even if the number of affected accounts amounted to a rounding error.

Former House Intelligence Committee Chair Pete Hoekstra — a former surveillance state cheerleader — now worries the NSA’s collection powers have increased far past the point of reason. As he points, 1% simply isn’t an acceptable failure rate.

“One percent or less sounds great, but the truth is 1 percent of my credit card charges don’t come back wrong every month. And in my mind one percent is pretty sloppy when it can impact Americans’ privacy.”

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Comments on “Released Documents Show More Section 702 Violations By The NSA”

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David says:

1% error rate?

So for every 100th international collection, they collect one from the U.S. Sounds good until you realize that about 4% of the world population are from the U.S.

So the "international" collection’s attempts of not picking up Americans are four times more accurate than just picking randomly.

If other law enforcement was as effective, on average one member of a four-person family would be in prison erroneously.

Yes, this is comparing apples and oranges, but we are talking about Big Orange being in charge of Big Apple (and other fruit you want to defend yourself from).

Daydream says:

The NSA has something in common with durian fruits.

After all, it raises an awful stink, especially when you cut it open to look at its inner workings.

But then again, you can eat a durian. They’re actually delicious, from what I’ve read.
But you wouldn’t be able to stomach the NSA. They’re rotten, the whole way through.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They say they are taking an inch, take 3 yards.
They say we have systems to fix oopsies, take months to fix.
They say we have to do this to be safe, any successes are so secret even Congress can’t know of them.

We are pouring cash into an unending hole, that is gobbling up one intercept at a time the alleged rights we supposedly have that are why the “Bad Guys” hate us.

I’m reminded once again of the gleaming spire, on a tour I drove, that was drug warrants issued under terrorism statues.

Bergman (profile) says:

So if you only break the law 1% of the time, you can't be prosecuted?

That would be an interesting business model. Run one of those bank armored car courier businesses where you ferry cash between banks and the US government, and in 1 out of 100 runs, you ‘make a mistake’ and assume the delivery is your payment and your payment is the delivery.

It’s not bank robbery to just suddenly make off with over $100,000 in the bank’s money because you only do it 1% of the time.

So if you do 500 deliveries, and only rob the bank 5 times, the government shouldn’t prosecute you because you have a 99% honesty rate in obeying the law. If you do 500,000 deliveries, and only rob 5,000 banks, you would likewise be unprosecutable, even though supposedly, 5,000 felonies is worse than 5 felonies.

That’s a hell of a thing to say in a country where unequal enforcement of the law is unconstitutional!

Anonymous Coward says:

We're all in deep state...

“The NSA also passed on intel to the FBI and CIA without properly minimizing it and made other dissemination errors. The documents show the NSA was also slow to inform other agencies of its minimization failures. Notification is supposed to made within five days of discovery, but in some cases it took the NSA more than three months to inform intel recipients of the error.”

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