NSA violated restrictions on surveillance “thousands of times”

The intelligence community violated restrictions on surveillance powers thousands of times a year in the past five years, according to a new report in The Washington Post.

“The number of ‘compliance incidents’ is jaw-dropping. The rules around government surveillance are so permissive that it is difficult to comprehend how the intelligence community could possibly have managed to violate them so often,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “Obviously it’s important to know what precisely these compliance incidents involved, and some are more troubling than others. But at least some of these incidents seem to have implicated the privacy of thousands or millions of innocent people.”

The Post also reported that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s ability to oversee the intelligence community’s activities is hamstrung by the court’s need to depend on the agencies themselves for information.

“That the FISA court is so reliant on the representations of intelligence officials is a real problem. In recent months, intelligence officials have made misleading and even false statements about the government’s surveillance activities,” Jaffer said. “It makes no sense at all to let the intelligence community police itself.”

In 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request for records on the government’s implementation of surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Much of the 900 pages that were released that same year were heavily or completely redacted. One document stated, “There have been some compliance incidents during the reporting period representing a small percentage of the overall activity.”

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