Oversight Report Shows The NSA Did Not Delete All The Inadvertently-Collected Phone Records It Claimed It Had Deleted

from the crossing-the-sec-215-finish-line-in-a-blaze-of-failure dept

Ever since Ed Snowden doxed the NSA’s phone records collection, the agency has been coughing up documents showing its multiple collection programs have never not been abused since its was granted more power shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

The putative sacrificial lamb offered up to angry Congressional reps and dismayed citizens was the Section 215 program. Well, only a small part of it, actually. The NSA would continue to hoover up business records without a warrant, but it was having trouble working within the confines of modifications forced upon it by the USA Freedom Act.

Rather than use its considerable expertise to tackle the problem of over-collection, the NSA has apparently decided to abandon this collection altogether. It only took six years since the first Snowden leak, but it’s something. But the NSA’s uninterrupted string of abuses continued right up to its offer to shutter the program — something that won’t actually be official until Congress codifies the abandonment.

Thanks to yet another FOIA lawsuit, more bad news about the tail end of collection’s lifespan has been released. Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports the NSA’s claims about its purge of over-collected data were as hollow as any of the dozens of public statements it has offered in response to a steady stream of leaked documents.

Even after the National Security Agency announced last year that it had purged records about Americans because some were inappropriately collected, the agency inadvertently continued to retain some of the data, according to a newly declassified report.

The National Security Agency deleted the remaining data in October 2018 after its inspector general discovered it, the report said. The problem surfaced just as the agency was separately discovering that it was again collecting phone records it had no authority to gather, which came to light last month.

As Savage notes, this report [PDF] sheds some more light on the NSA’s decision to pull the plug on the collection. Perhaps the agency is simply tired of generating its own bad press with every new document forced out of its hands by public records requests.

That and the program is likely of limited usefulness, given more people communicate with messaging apps than phone calls at this point in time. On top of that, gathering third-party records without a warrant is no longer a given — not with the USA Freedom Act modifications and recent Supreme Court decisions.

Every recent development has made the program more of a pain in the ass for the NSA. To that I say, “Good!” But it should have been this way from the start. Engaging in domestic surveillance should be a last resort, not default operating mode. It took most of a decade to turn one domestic surveillance program into a burden for the surveillance agency. Everything the NSA does should be this burdensome. This is the only way it will start treating the powers it has with some respect.

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Comments on “Oversight Report Shows The NSA Did Not Delete All The Inadvertently-Collected Phone Records It Claimed It Had Deleted”

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16 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

From what I’ve read the problem isn’t that what passes for ‘oversight’ lacks the power to hand out punishments for non-compliance, but the willingness to do so, with the ‘oversight’ more often than not stocked with people who are very clearly on the NSA’s side.

The ability to hand out punishments means less than nothing if the ones with that power refuse to use it.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

"Engaging in domestic surveillance should be a last resort, not default operating mode."

No !

This NSA mass domestic surveillance is absolutely forbidden by 4th Amendment, under any circumstances.

By conceding that such mass surveillance is OK as an arbitrary "last resort" — you have totally erased fundamental citizen rights and lost the fight.

And just who are these "angry Congressional reps" heroically battling the NSA ?

(I’ve never seen any. No Congressman has ever put his career on the line to challenge NSA abuses. Most Congressmen strongly support the Surveillance State e.g. Patriot Act legislation)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The NSA, like the FBI, are famous for the departments that shouldn’t exist, while performing necessary functions that should definitely exist. The problem with the NSA is that two of those functions are in direct opposition with each other.

They’re supposed to be in charge of national signals security, and I’d rather trust that to them than to the FCC, which is the only other department with a hand in this pie (unless you count Homeland Security).

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Not anything new about this

NSA keeps data! News at 11!

It’s like we go through a vicious cycle:

  1. Hope springs eternal, that the intelligence community isn’t keeping all the data.
  2. Hope is dashed with the discovery that the intelligence community is keeping all the data.
  3. Repeat from 1.

Or, if you prefer:

  1. Intelligence community denies it is keeping all of the data.
  2. It is discovered that the intelligence community is keeping all the data.
  3. Repeat from 1.

Maybe we can get it through our heads if we have Jeff Bridges reprise Obadiah Stane and roar: THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY KEEPS ALL THE DATA, EVERY SCRAP OF IT, FOREVER.

If you think otherwise, even for a moment, you’re delusional.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Replace 'wrist slap' with 'you're fired'

Engaging in domestic surveillance should be a last resort, not default operating mode. It took most of a decade to turn one domestic surveillance program into a burden for the surveillance agency. Everything the NSA does should be this burdensome. This is the only way it will start treating the powers it has with some respect.

Making them actually work if they want to do something will make them less likely to do so on a whim, but a much better way to get them to treat their powers with the respect due would be to hand out real punishments for stepping over the line.

If violating the rules meant the ones involved were heavily personally fined or even sacked and blacklisted from ever working in a similar position depending on the severity of the violation and that was actually enforced then they’d be much more careful to stay within the limits, as those violations would carry personal risk rather than just the possibility of the agency getting some bad PR and those involved escaping unscathed.

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