Not that this should come as a surprise, but it should strengthen the argument for restricting the NSA’s spying powers; turns out the NSA misled the court that they needed to go to for approval of wiretapping, and in fact spied on innocent Americans not suspected of terrorism, in communications unrelated to international conversations. Now remember, the “rules” that the NSA was going by were already in violation of the Constitutionally protected Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. But the NSA even broke those rules and for at least 3 years violated the privacy rights of Americans on an even broader scale.
“The court entrusted NSA with extraordinary authority, and with it came the highest responsibility for compliance and protection of privacy rights,” NSA Director Keith Alexander wrote in one of the declassified documents. “In several instances, NSA implemented its authority in a manner inconsistent with the orders, and some of these inconsistencies were not recognized for more than two and a half years.”
So what were these violations? Inappropriate checks on 16,000 phone numbers, and a “significant” number of phone numbers of Americans were added to a watch list for heightened security, without going through the proper procedure, apparently with little to no evidence of wrongdoing. As early as 2009 a federal judge expressed serious concerns over the legitimacy of the NSA program, yet did not shut it down. According to Bllomberg.com, the following continued:
The NSA collects bulk phone records, such as numbers and call durations, from companies including Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.
Under the law, the agency must have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a phone number may be connected to a terrorist plot to query it against the larger database of records.
Apparently all the NSA had to do for the secret court was to certify that the legal standard had been met, when in reality it had only been met for about 2,000 of almost 18,000 numbers put on a high alert list. This list is separate from the NSA employees and contractors who are now known to have spied on specific people of interest to them, such as love interests. And now the public is supposed to accept the line that these transgressions have been remedied and won’t happen again.
…the NSA intercepted as many as 56,000 electronic communications a year of Americans who weren’t suspected of having links to terrorism, before the secret court that oversees surveillance found the operation unconstitutional in 2011.
In a declassified legal opinion from October 2011, the court said the agency misrepresented the scope of surveillance operations three times in less than three years.
A May 2012 internal government audit found more than 2,700 violations involving NSA surveillance of Americans and foreigners over a one-year period.
The abuse that has been proven to have occurred at the hands of the NSA under their spying program is already enough to warrant shutting the entire program down, and that is just what has been proven. What we do not know is how many other innocent victims were spied on, what type of information on innocent people has been stored, and how that information will be used in the future. The Fourth Amendment was written for a reason; to protect innocent people from violations of their privacy by the government, and prevent the possibility of the government abusing an individual with illegally acquired information. Currently, there is every reason to believe the government has a bulk of illegal information on innocent individuals, and with recent attempts to suppress particular politics groups, there is reason to believe that information could be used by the government to harm individuals who are deemed an enemy.