A 2012 internal audit [materials] released by the Washington Post on Thursday revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] broke numerous privacy laws since 2008. Congress approved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act [text, PDF] in 2008, granting the NSA broad authority to conduct surveillance of Americans to protect against terrorism and other foreign threats. The documents, leaked to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], describe more than 2,500 instances of the NSA exceeding its legal authority by engaging in unauthorized surveillance of Americansincluding confusing a US area code with an Egyptian area code and intercepting a significant amount of US citizen phone calls. In response to the Washington Post report, the NSA stated:
A variety of factors can cause the numbers of incidents to trend up or down from one quarter to the next. They include, but are not limited to: implementation of new procedures or guidance with respect to our authorities that prompt a spike that requires "fine tuning," changes to the technology or software in the targeted environment for which we had no prior knowledge, unforeseen shortcomings in our systems, new or expanded access, and "roaming" by foreign targets into the US, some of which NSA cannot anticipate in advance but each instance of which is reported as an incident.The NSA concluded its remarks by reiterating its continued effort to identify potential incidents or risks of incidents at the earliest possible moment and to implement prevention measures to help minimize the number of incidents that occur.
Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In July civil liberties groups filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder] supporting efforts by Google and Microsoft [corporate websites] to publish data concerning how many times the government invoked federal law to request user information for national security purposes. Also in July a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California rejected a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit alleging the NSA illegally surveilled "millions of ordinary Americans" in the wake of 9/11 and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed an emergency petition [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court challenging the NSA's telephone record surveillance program. In June the Guardian reported [JURIST report] that the NSA is collecting call data from Verizon customers under a top secret court order. Also in June several US lawmakers called [JURIST report] for a review of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring and a criminal investigation into the activities of Snowden, who came forward as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. The US government has charged [JURIST report] former government contractor Snowden with espionage for leaking top secret documents, according to a sealed criminal complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.