WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and privacy advocates called Friday for greater transparency in operations of the National Security Agency in response to reports that the highly secretive agency repeatedly violated privacy rules over the years.
The reaction came after the Washington Post reported the violations in Fridays editions, citing an internal audit and other top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Most of the thousands of infractions each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008 involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order.
The documents, provided this summer to The Post by Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia earlier this month, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, Press reports that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year and reportedly sought to shield required disclosure of privacy violations are extremely disturbing.
She noted that the law requires that violations be reported to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. She said Congress should take steps to ensure violations are not repeated.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has complained that officials have not been truthful in discussing the scope and effectiveness of the NSAs surveillance programs, said, I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA. He said he will hold another hearing on the issue and will demand honest answers from the intelligence community.
Using advanced surveillance technologies in secret demands close oversight and appropriate checks and balances, and the American people deserve no less than that, Leahy said.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said in a tweet that the news of NSA violations is outrageous and provides one more example of needed oversight/reform.
The revelations make clear that our system of checks and balances has failed, said Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. Congress is not exercising meaningful oversight of the NSA, the secret court that rules on surveillance applications does not believe it has the capacity to scrutinize the governments practices, and the public has been kept almost entirely in the dark. Were essentially letting the fox guard the henhouse.
The Brennan Center for Justice in New York said the leaked documents reveal that the NSAs violations range from serious breaches of the law to careless errors. It noted that the internal audit exposed more than 2,700 violations from 2011 to 2012, many of which resulted in illegal surveillance of Americans.
This surveillance includes several cases of unauthorized interception and access to U.S. phone calls and e-mails, the center said, despite the previous insistence of the Obama administration that rigorous oversight measures were in place.
The most recent revelations paint a disturbing picture of misconduct at the NSA and show that current oversight is not enough, said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Centers Liberty and National Security Program. Even the secret court charged with reviewing NSA operations has conceded that it doesnt have the capacity to supervise the agencys vast intelligence operations.