While you and I were enjoying time with our families and suffering through Grandma’s stories, the NSA decided to let loose some of their family secrets. On Christmas Eve, long after we’d all checked out mentally in anticipation of Christmas, the NSA gifted us with a file dump of all the times they’ve illegally spied on us. If you’re thinking “oh, good, I’ll command-F for my name”, think again. The files are heavily redacted, and only discuss the instances of erroneous spying.
The files were in response to a lawsuit brought by the tenacious Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of what’s in the files you’ve already heard of here and there, so not all of it is revelatory. In fact, you probably know most of what the NSA is unveiling (or not unveiling) today.
Here’s how the NSA explains away their grabbing info on the everyman:
NSA goes to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Constitution, laws and regulations. As conveyed in the released materials, an array of technical and human-based checks attempt to identify and correct errors, some amount of which occur naturally in any large, complex system. Nevertheless, as the IOB reports make clear, 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. Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted, referred to as the “purge” process.
With statements like that and redacted documents, it’s clear the NSA is intent on forging ahead as usual. If they grabbed your info unwittingly, you should just trust they’ll “purge” it, right? I mean, there’s an array of stopgaps to keep it from happening.
Indeed, their “complex system” is imperfect, too. Data being stored on servers “not authorized” to house it, searches bringing info back on citizens not on the watch list, and stalking of significant others so rampant it warranted its own moniker.
The redacted documents reach back to 2007, so at least we get a rough idea of how many times the NSA screwed up in grabbing info on us.