SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

September 11, 2013

Docs: Officials misused US surveillance program

(Continued)

Walton also noted that sometimes a U.S. phone number would be reassigned by a phone company, and in such cases the NSA would scrutinize the records of an innocent customer. Walton called such cases “a source of concern by the court.” He noted that, months earlier, the court ordered the NSA to explain more fully how it chooses which phone numbers to search and to delete any information that was improperly collected.

“This report was not sufficiently detailed to allay the court’s concerns,” Walton wrote. He ordered the NSA going forward to regularly tell the court the number of phone records searched, the time period when they could be searched, and details about how the NSA analysts were conducting searches suggested by results from other searches.

The hundreds of previously classified documents federal officials released yesterday came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Obama administration has been facing mounting pressure to reveal more details about the government’s domestic surveillance program since a former intelligence contractor released documents showing massive trawling of domestic data by the NSA.

The data included domestic telephone numbers, calling patterns and the agency’s collection of Americans’ Internet user names, IP addresses and other metadata swept up in surveillance of foreign terror suspects.

The Obama administration’s decision to release the documents comes just two weeks after it declassified three secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions — including one in response to a separate EFF lawsuit in the federal court in Washington. In that October 2011 opinion, Judge John D. Bates said he was troubled by at least three incidents over three years where government officials admitted to mistaken collection of domestic data.

The NSA’s huge surveillance machine proved unwieldy even for the experts inside the agency. In a long report to the surveillance court in August 2009, the Obama administration blamed its mistakes on the complexity of the system and “a lack of shared understanding among the key stakeholders” about the scope of the surveillance.

Complexity has been a theme since the NSA leaks began this summer. Though Obama said Congress was briefed on the programs, members of Congress said they were surprised to learn how vast and intrusive the surveillance was. Even Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who sponsored the Patriot Act, said he never knew it would be used to sweep up phone records of every American.

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