National Security Agency broke court rules with queries of phone database
Organisation declassifies documents on privacy protections between 2006 and 2009
“From a technical standpoint, there was no single person who had a complete technical understanding,” General Alexander told the court in February 2009. He said numerous officials made honest mistakes, such as concluding that restrictions on “archived” phone records did not also apply to the daily influx of new calling records.
The documents were declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence after a long fight with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, that filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit two years ago.
The lawsuit gained steam after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents about the agency’s practices, including an earlier surveillance court ruling compelling Verizon Communications to turn over all its raw calling records, though not the content of the calls.
Officials confirmed that document was genuine and declassified some related papers.
In another lawsuit, the government last month released another ruling by the same 11-member court that found some of the NSA’s email collection practices were unconstitutional because they scooped up tens of thousands of emails between Americans.
Two Democratic senators who have long hinted about undisclosed surveillance problems, Ron Wyden for Oregon and Mark Udall for Colorado, said in a joint statement: “When the executive branch acknowledged last month that ‘rules, regulations and court-imposed standards’ intended to protect Americans’ privacy had been violated thousands of times each year, we said that this confirmation was ‘the tip of a larger iceberg.’
“With the documents declassified and released this afternoon by the Director of National Intelligence, the public now has new information about the size and shape of that iceberg.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement online that the latest declassified documents showed that intelligence officials had self-reported problems with the programme and corrected them.
“The government has undertaken extraordinary measures to identify and correct mistakes that have occurred in implementing the bulk telephony metadata collection programme - and to put systems and processes in place that seek to prevent such mistakes from occurring in the first place,” Mr Clapper said.
For a time after the 2009 phone-record ruling, the NSA was required to seek court approval for every query to the database.
After the NSA changed its procedures, the court again allowed the agency to conduct queries on its own.