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Naughty or Nice? NSA Releases Report on 12 Years of Secret (and Improper) Surveillance on Americans

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In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the nonpartisan and non-profit organization American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Security Agency (NSA) released reports that revealed how intelligence gathering by its employees has led to the abuse and violation of the privacy of U.S. citizens over the past 12 years.

The reports, which were posted on the agency's website at about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 24, were released to the president's Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) as required by Executive Order 12333 and included quarterly and yearly reports of NSA's activities covering the period between 2001 and 2013.

Although the reports were heavily redacted, they detailed embarrassing accounts of how NSA employees abused and misused surveillance and collected data. Employees, for instance, were tracking or ordering the surveillance of their romantic partner, a practice common enough to have gained its spycraft label: LOVEINT.

A civilian employee tracked the telephone number of his girlfriend for a month and retired before the investigation was done. A member of the military intelligence, on the other hand, collected the communications of his wife stationed abroad. The officer was demoted in rank and his pay reduced for two months as a result of his inappropriate action.

One NSA analyst also looked up her husband's personal telephone directory without informing him, to get names and contact information for "targeting." The employee was advised to stop her activities.

"NSA goes to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Constitution, laws and regulations," the intelligence agency stated. "NSA takes even unintentional errors seriously and institutes corrective action, typically involving at a minimum a combination of training and technical measures designed to prevent recurrences."

The reports also revealed that the NSA violated U.S. laws by collecting the emails, phone records and other information on American citizens and foreign nationals and sharing these with unauthorized recipients. These also detailed how private data are being kept in unsecured computer. Data that were supposed to have long been destroyed as required by law were likewise revealed to have been retained.

Patrick Toomey from ACLU's National Security Project said that the reports show how information gathered by the NSA have been misused.

"The government conducts sweeping surveillance under this authority -- surveillance that increasingly puts Americans' data in the hands of the NSA," Toomey said.

It also appears that the reports offered few revelations. Earlier this year, former NSA analyst Edward Snowden said that agency employees commonly circulate nude photos found during surveillance but such practices were not reported in the newly published documents.

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