The 7 things you need to know about the latest NSA scandal

Not only has the NSA been secretly spying on us, it's also been doing so illegally thousands of times per year. That's the latest revelation from documents given to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year. They show that the NSA has been breaking privacy rules and acting illegally to get access to information since it gained greater surveillance powers in 2008.


Here's the essentials of what you need to know about the latest scandal:

Internal audit shows almost 3,000 NSA violations

The Post reports that an internal audit of the NSA shows the unauthorised surveillance of Americans and foreign intelligence targets located in the US. Within the 12-month time span from May 2012 the audit covered, 2,776 violations were recorded – in which the NSA accessed, stored, distributed or collected legally protected communications. According to the Post, the NSA violated a court order by using data on over 3,000 US citizens and green card holders.

Unauthorised surveillance activities "unintended"

The NSA claims most of its unauthorised activities were unintended. The reason? The Post quotes a failure of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. One in 10 incidents are apparently due to typographical errors, when secret service analysts enter incorrect queries.

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NSA overseer FISC doesn't have the power to control it

The Post reveals how the NSA got away with its unauthorised actions. It claims the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), which is a secret court supposed to oversee the NSA, doesn't actually have the power to request or investigate information provided by the NSA.

“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” said FISC chief US District Judge Reggie Walton in a statement given to the Post.

“The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing compliance with its orders.”

Personnel hid information from congress and court

One document points to NSA official being taught to reword and leave out details in reports given to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The latest in-depth documents provided to The Post are said to not usually be shared with congress or the FISC.

One example of an NSA infringement that it did not report was when it intercepted a "large number" of calls from Washington due to a programming error that mistook Washington's 202 code for 20, which is the international dialling code for Egypt.

NSA's official line

A senior NSA official tried to explain its actions to The Post, saying: “We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line”.

The most serious violation

The Post reports that one of the most serious violations involved the NSA diverting "large volumes of international data passing through fibre-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and selection". Within this data was a mixture of foreign and US emails.

A breach of the Fourth Amendment

This action was ruled in breach of the Fourth Commandment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, in October 2011 by the FISC. NSA lawyers, however, told the court it could "not practicably filter out the communication of Americans", The Post wrote.

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Image credit: Flickr user Ian Sane

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