NSA: One Step Over the Line

May 21st, 2009 | Sources: NY Times


The National Security Agency has been intercepting email messages and phone calls of American citizens in violation of the already broad legal limits imposed by Congress last year, according to government intelligence officials.

yourgovernmentatworkThese officials indicate there has been significant and systemic, although possibly inadvertent “overcollection” of domestic communications involving people living in the US.

Last week the Justice Department acknowledged to the New York Times that, as part of a routine review of NSA operations, it “detected issues that raised concerns.”

Justice Department officials then “took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance” with the law and court orders, according to the statement.

The violations apparently began last July when Congress modified the law regarding government wiretapping powers on terrorism and spying suspects. The new spying framework apparently created implementation challenges and errors resulted.

The original law represented a triumph for the Bush administration, 3 years after his warrantless wiretapping program was outed in 2005.

After much wrangling in Congress, the original law permitted the NSA to collect, without court-approved warrants, gobs of international phone and email traffic as it passed across US telecom gateways, so long as the targets  were “reasonably believed” to be outside the US.

The modification was designed to assure the law wasn’t extended to US citizens but either something got lost in translation or NSA staffers ran into operational glitches making it difficult to distinguish domestic from international communications, or both.

sophisticatedNSAspytoolThe result was that the agency was targeting US citizens and domestic communications without warrants.

No one seems to know the scope of the problem, or if they do, no one’s talking.

It is not clear whether the NSA actively listened to conversations or read email from Americans, or whether it simply obtained access to them.


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