The National Security Agency was caught illegally collecting records from innocent Americans through a controversial program that is supposed to be used for counter-terrorism purposes—and this is not the first time it has happened.
According to new documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, last year between October 3 and 12, NSA compliance reports show “an unidentified phone company provided the NSA with records that it should not have received,” because those records were not related to terrorism suspects.
The reports were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and because they are heavily redacted, it’s still not clear exactly how many records the NSA collected without authorization.
It is also not clear how many times it has happened before. The latest records suggest that the NSA was guilty of at least one other “over-collection” episode in the same year, which had a “significant” effect on Americans’ privacy because of the volume of records that were obtained.
In response, the NSA reportedly deleted the program’s entire database in June 2018. Then reports from earlier this year stated that the NSA had quietly shut down a system that analyzes logs of Americans’ domestic calls and text messages.
But the NSA has yet to publicly acknowledge any of this, and despite repeated claims that the purpose of the surveillance program is to catch terrorism suspects, privacy advocates question whether allowing the government to have so much power is actually making Americans any safer.
In a statement, the ACLU argued, “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. There is no justification for leaving this surveillance power in the NSA’s hands.”
Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has been used to justify the mass collection of Americans’ phone records, under the approval of a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is set to expire at the end of this year.
While there are only a handful of members of Congress who have been outspoken in their criticism of the NSA’s practices, there is also concern, as reports signal the White House plans to push for a permanent renewal of the surveillance law, despite years of privacy concerns.
As the latest revelations show, there is also a problem with oversight, and despite the fact that the NSA has been caught illegally collecting private information from American citizens, yet again, it does not appear that anyone has been held accountable.