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David Talbot

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Washington Post: 2,776 NSA Privacy Breaches in One Year

Two weeks after NSA chief cited tight auditing–and consequences for internal violations–new disclosures show such breaches are common.

  • August 16, 2013

Just two weeks ago, the director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, stood before a technology audience and declared that U.S. phone and Internet surveillance sets “a standard for other countries.”  

He talked of strict internal controls, and said relatively few people were able to query databases. If anyone was doing the wrong thing within the agency, he added, “our auditing tools would detect them and they would be found accountable, and they know that” (see “NSA Chief Says U.S. Phone and Web Surveillance Sets Standard for Other Countries”).

Now comes the Washington Post, letting us know that according to internal NSA audits leaked to the paper, privacy breaches have happened 2,776 times in one year ending in May 2012, mostly “unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States.” The primary documents—and the Post story and related graphics—are very well worth reading here.  

The Post writes: “Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.” It did not mention whether any consequences followed.

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