The National Security Agency has used the Christmas holiday to “minimize the impact” of releasing a report on 12 years of privacy violations, the American Civil Liberties Union says.
As Americans were busy celebrating, the NSA quietly published on Friday hundreds of pages worth of declassified data spanning more than a decade of intelligence collection.
“I certainly think the NSA would prefer to have the documents released right ahead of the holidays in order to have less public attention on what they contain,” Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s national security project, told the Guardian.
The reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) were heavily redacted at the time of release — many to the point of illegibility.
After a Freedom of Information Act request by ACLU this summer, a court ordered the NSA to release documents by December 22, and the NSA sent them to the ACLU by FedEx late on the 22nd.
But the ACLU didn’t receive them until “late in the day on the 23rd,” Toomey said. The agency posted the documents to its website at 1:30 pm on Christmas Eve as a tactic to minimize press coverage.
The report details various means, through which the NSA staff mishandled the data, failed to follow legal guidelines regarding the retention of private information, and shared data with unauthorized recipients.
For instance, the report shows that the NSA employees have abused the agency’s data by spying on their spouses for over a decade, while some of the documents showed how US citizens were “inadvertently” spied on by the government’s spying apparatus.
“There are certain portions of the documents that really vindicate some of the things [Edward] Snowden said when he first described the NSA surveillance in terms of the ability of analysts to conduct queries – without authorization – of raw internet traffic,” Toomey said.
“More generally, just the range of different compliance violations makes it clear that at every step of the NSA’s collection of information there are vulnerabilities that leave the privacy of Americans at risk.”
The section detailing the total number of violations has been redacted in the report. ACLU plans to sue the administration until the numbers are released.
President Barack Obama’s administration has been under pressure since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has been spying on millions of people across the world, including leaders of countries allied with Washington.