NSA ‘may have collected tens of thousands of Americans’ emails’
WASHINGTON — United States intelligence officials released new documents yesterday showing that the National Security Agency (NSA) may have unintentionally collected as many as 56,000 emailed communications of Americans per year between 2008 and 2011.
The officials revealed the documents as part of an effort to explain how the NSA spotted, and then fixed, technical problems that led to the inadvertent collection of emails of American citizens without warrants.
The move is the Obama administration’s latest response to the continuing controversy over alleged electronic eavesdropping excesses by the NSA.
The documents made public a ruling by a top-secret court in October 2011 that the NSA programme — which searches the contents of Americans’ international Web communications for mentions of foreigners under surveillance — violated the Constitution for several years.
The 85-page ruling by Judge John Bates, then serving on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, held that the NSA was mishandling as many as tens of thousands of unrelated and purely domestic communications it was picking up, as a consequence of filtering Internet data for such messages.
The release of the ruling, under pressure by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was the latest effort by the Obama administration to contain revelations about NSA surveillance prompted by leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden.
The documents showed that the problems were relatively small when compared with the vast scale of NSA surveillance conducted from the US on non-citizens abroad.
The ruling estimated that the agency intercepts more than 250 million communications that way each year and the NSA fixed the problems to the court’s satisfaction, the documents showed.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington still contends that there is no domestic surveillance programme and that the NSA programme is specifically to gather foreign intelligence.