A “secret” US intelligence court permitted the US National Security Agency to collect an expanded amount of data about Americans’ email, even after finding that the agency systematically exceeded the limits of a smaller program.
According to reports, the judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court recounted a litany of problems with the first, smaller program, including the NSA collecting more categories of information than had been approved by the court and sharing data more widely within the electronic eavesdropping agency than had been authorised.
Intelligence officials said the first program was abandoned after it brought problems to the attention of the court. A second program was discontinued in 2011 after an examination revealed that the program was no longer meeting the operational expectations that NSA had for it.
According to the paper released by Judge John Bates, parts of which are censored, analysts queried the database with names that had not been found to be terrorists or foreign agents, despite the NSA being allowed to share criminal evidence with law enforcement agencies, but being supposed to obscure email addresses to protect the identities of US citizens.
Bates claimed that NSA analysts made it a general practice to disseminate to other agencies intelligence reports containing US person information, such as their email addresses.
It was also revealed that the NSA tried to prolong its access to the data of the dropped program and was partially successful, as Judge Bates agreed to let analysts search data that had been collected properly but not the extra material it shouldn’t have collected in the first place.
Judge Bates said that the second program “encompasses a much larger volume of communications, without limiting the requested authorisation to streams of data with a relatively big concentration of foreign power communications” than the initial program. After accepting procedures to limit the spread of identifying information on Americans, Judge Bates approved its use.