Documents Show The NSA's Abuse Of Its Phone Records Collection Continued Right Up Until Its Decision To Pull The Plug

from the too-much-of-a-useless-thing dept

The NSA may have extremely belatedly decided to give up its bulk phone records collection, but that’s only after years of dysfunction, abuse, and escalating uselessness. The problems with the NSA’s collection of phone records dates back to at least 2004 — a 14-year streak of violations that may only now be coming to an end because of the NSA’s voluntary sunsetting.

For years, the NSA treated the phone records collection as essential to national security. Not much was said about it until Ed Snowden leaked a court order showing the NSA was sweeping up every record possessed by Verizon’s business services wing. Then things got heated and the NSA was unable to justify its continued existence.

Once the program was modified, the NSA had even more trouble collecting records lawfully. It may have been limited to performing targeted searches, but it was still somehow able to over-collect. Whether this was due to the NSA’s filtering of returned search results or errors on the telco side when providing records, the NSA hasn’t definitively said. But it did destroy millions of records it never should have had in the first place, strongly suggesting the agency was still collecting in bulk, despite legislative changes.

The NSA may be winding the program down, but it’s not going out without extending its violation streak, as John Bacon reports for USA Today.

The National Security Agency improperly collected phone call records of Americans last fall, months after a previous breach that compelled the agency to destroy millions of records from the contentious program, documents released Wednesday revealed.

The redacted documents, obtained by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, do not indicate how many records NSA improperly collected in the October breach, nor which telecommunications provider submitted the improper data.

The NSA is consistent, if nothing else. It continues to violate the rules governing its collections and the American public will be made aware of these abuses months after the fact. This latest revelation didn’t come via the ODNI’s Tumblr or during a Congressional hearing, but via a lawsuit over withheld documents.

The ACLU notes that this is just more evidence that the NSA can’t be trusted with the incredible amount of power it’s been given. This is from ACLU staff attorney Patrick Toomey:

The NSA’s collection of Americans’ call records is too sweeping, the compliance problems too many and evidence of the program’s value all but nonexistent.

This is all known now. But every trickle of information about this program has come from FOIA lawsuits and document leaks. None of this has come directly from the NSA or its oversight. This means both entities have been fronting an abusive, useless program for most of two decades and are only now abandoning it because apparently the rigors of compliance outweigh the value of the intel.

Finally, it should be noted the NSA is only ditching the phone records program. It will continue to sweep up other “business records” in bulk. Given its history with this program, it’s guaranteed its other collections under this authority are just as abused, and possibly just as worthless.

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