Edward Snowden's leaks helped expose privacy breaches by US NSA
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The U.S. National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since 2008, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing an internal audit and other top-secret documents.
Most of the infractions involved unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order, the paper said.
They ranged from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. emails and telephone calls, it said.
The Post said the documents it obtained were part of a trove of materials provided to the paper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has been charged by the United States with espionage. He was granted asylum in Russia earlier this month.
The documents included a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance, the paper said. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In one instance, the NSA decided it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans, the Post said. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a "large number" of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt.
The Post said the NSA audit, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.
The paper said most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. It said 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.