Declassified Documents Reveal NSA Privacy Violations

Declassified documents spur criticism of government surveillance programs.


The House is considering legislation that would reform the way the National Security Agency performs surveillance on citizens.

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More than 1,800 pages of declassified documents reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA) violated the privacy protections of Americans between 2006 and 2009 by failing to meet a court-ordered standard for its phone data collection program.

[READ: NSA Surveillance 'Violate the Constitution,' Issa Says]

In a statement on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper detailed the disclosure of the documents, which included Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions.

"Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch's continued commitment to making information about this intelligence collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States," Clapper said in the statement.

The NSA declined to comment beyond public statements about the disclosure.

The disclosure was part of a court-ordered release of documents following Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union against the Department of Justice.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., responded to the disclosure with a statement promising that his committee would hold more oversight hearings with Obama Administration officials to determine "appropriate checks and balances," on government surveillance.

"Americans deserve to understand more about the NSA's collection and use of their phone records, and in particular about the types of systemic problems revealed in these documents," Leahy said.

[OPINION: How the NSA Could Better Balance Privacy and Security]

Leahy has introduced legislation that would end the bulk collection of Americans' phone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., reasserted their opposition to the NSA's collection of phone records data in a joint statement, in which they said significant violations of privacy in the NSA program remain classified.

"We have said before that we have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans' phone records has provided any intelligence that couldn't be gathered through less intrusive means and that bulk collection should be ended," according to the joint statement.

Twelve years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public remains wary of the threat of terrorism but is also critical of government surveillance programs put in place to counter terrorism, according to a poll by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago's NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That poll released on Tuesday is available for download here.

[BROWSE: Editorial Cartoons on the NSA]

It is up to Congress to determine a balance of effective security and privacy protections, said Amy Zegart, co-director at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

"It's important to remember that there was a gap in our ability to collect communications between suspected terrorists abroad and at home," Zegart said of the surveillance measures used after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The story of the NSA is not a scandal about an agency running amok. It is a vital policy debate about where our elected officials need to draw the line between surveillance, privacy and security."

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