From 2006 to 2009, the National Security Agency (NSA) carried out illegal surveillance on thousands of phone numbers, violating numerous privacy norms. And what’s even more surprising is that it took four years for the violations to become public.
Documents have been released under FOIA
According to official documents (via: Forbes), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), judicial regulators of NSA, found that the agency was illegally conducting surveillance on thousands of phone numbers from 2006 to 2009, both within and outside U.S., without proper authorization. The documents were released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to a request by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
On a daily basis, NSA executives search massive phone call metadata to match with their so called “Alert List” of 17,835 numbers. Out of these numbers only 1,935 records matched the legal requirement of “reasonable articulable suspicion”, which is essential to track those numbers.
NSA defending actions
In its defense, NSA director Keith Alexander wrote to the FISC that the alert list contained only those records that satisfy the RAS [reasonable articulable suspicion] standard. The director said that the majority of records were “[counter-terrorism] identifiers” that have not been “assessed for RAS.”
One of the activists involved in the request to FOIA, Trevor Timm, said, “They seemed to believe that they could automatically search the data that came in from the phone companies every day and they wouldn’t have to follow court rules.”
Earlier, Snowden made similar accusations about NSA
After the revelation by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, section 215 of the Patriot Act, or more specifically the Business Records provision which allows NSA to foresee data of millions of Americans and foreigners, has come under continuous scrutiny.
The first revelation made by Snowden, which was published in the Guardian newspaper in June, accused NSA of demanding all phone record metadata from Verizon Communications Inc.(NYSE:VZ), for American users concerning Business Network Services for a three month period. Another report from The Wall Street Journal, confirmed that AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Sprint also received similar orders. Also, Congressmen Saxby Chambliss and Diane Feinstein revealed that such requests have been made by the agency routinely for years.
In June, NSA registered its protest against the revelations saying that all data collected is carefully scrutinized by judiciary, congressional and executive branch regulators.
The documents released under FOIA run into hundreds of pages, and are currently under review by EFF and other media organizations. We can surely assume there are more revelations to come, so stay tuned…