The NSA isn’t just spying on suspected terrorists, it’s spying on millions of American citizens without any indication whatsoever that they are connected to terrorism. This spying is so extensive that it might include the whole population. It has also broken essentially all encryption systems so not even encrypted communications are safe from it’s prying eyes. It has been given permission to engage in this surveillance by judges who have been lied to by the agency.

Declassified documents have just been released in response to a legal action between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Justice Department; the San Francisco-based company brought the case to court in 2011 for records of data collection under the USA Patriot Act. The documents, from Intelligence Community Documents Regarding Collection under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), were made available by James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, acting on the direct instructions of President Obama, and they confirm that the National Security Agency violated legal restrictions when harvesting private data from US citizens.

The new information indicates that between 2006 and 2009, the NSA authorised the daily monitoring of millions of US telephone numbers, calling patterns and IP addresses, justifying this as a necessary measure for the surveillance of foreign terror suspects. The NSA were able to obtain bulk phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which allows evidence from private companies to be collated if there is “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the data they hold is associated with terrorism and should be checked against a larger database.

A total of only 2000 numbers fulfilled that legal requirement, yet up to 16,000 phone numbers were checked against databases which contained millions of records, a practice which violates US law, and evidence from two senior intelligence officials suggest that judges were lied to in order to facilitate the procedures. US District Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over secret spy courts, said that he was ‘deeply troubled’ when he discovered that records had been accessed without the necessary evidence. Another key issue was that many of the analysts privy to the information did not have the correct security clearance, meaning that they were not authorised or bound to keep the private information confidential. Only 53 analysts were actually approved by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to handle sensitive data, yet the details were disseminated via email to up 189 staff.

The government state in the documents that any compliance issue occurred as a result of confusion due to the complexity of the bulk telephony metadata collection program, that all matters of non-compliance had now been resolved, and that since the incidents came to light, the ranks of the NSA’s compliance team has now swelled to a total of 300 personnel in an effort to maintain its integrity. James Clapper maintains that ‘since 2009, the Government has continued to increase its focus on compliance and oversight’, and that any subsequent compliance issues had been minor, arising due to genuine human error, and had been instantly remedied.

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