NSA violations compared to Obamacare website ills

November 19, 2013 by Eileen Sullivan
A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. Another release of declassified government surveillance documents is underway as part of an ongoing civil liberties lawsuit. The Obama administration published more than 1,000 pages of once-secret court opinions and National Security Agency procedures on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Nov. 18, 2103. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The U.S. intelligence community's top lawyer on Tuesday defended the surveillance violations by staff of the National Security Agency by comparing programs that collect mass amounts of information on Americans to problems with the troubled health care website.

"Complicated technology systems frequently don't work as they expect them to," Robert Litt, general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, told a conference at the Georgetown University Law Center. "Using the word 'abuse' in the context of the operation of the surveillance program is a little bit like saying the Department of Health and Human Services is abusing people because of the fact that the Obamacare websites don't work properly. They are complicated."

In 2011, after the government disclosed what it said were technical problems with its computer systems, a court found the NSA had violated the U.S. Constitution for three years. Litt's statement on Tuesday could be read as significantly playing down the constitutional violations cited by the court or as highlighting the politically sensitive problems with the health care website.

The Obama administration on Monday declassified another round of secret documents, showing that the NSA has made serious mistakes in collecting American communications records. The documents also show that agency reported those errors and took action to prevent future missteps.

According to court records released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Monday, the NSA admitted to gathering material improperly—in one case because of a typographical error, and in another case because of "poor management, lack of involvement by compliance officials and lack of internal verification procedures, not by bad faith."

The Obama administration published the heavily censored files as part of ongoing civil liberties lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the government's collection of U.S. communications records, which the White House has said is a crucial tool to track terrorists.

The latest release—with much of the documents heavily blacked out—reflects the administration's strenuous efforts to maintain its legal authority to collect Americans' phone records and some email data amid opposition on Capitol Hill. The administration has been under pressure to reveal more details about NSA operations since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents detailing the agency's collection of millions of U.S. communications records.

In one of the newly released documents, the secret intelligence court judge, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, expressed dismay in 2009 over the continuing errors after the government had repeatedly said it would fix the problems. "Those responsible for conducting oversight at the NSA had failed to do so effectively," Bates said, calling that the most charitable conclusion he could come to.

Litt said Tuesday the NSA had taken multiple steps since those documents were produced, including appointing a compliance officer and hiring a 300-person team to oversee operations—which he said has helped address the frequent "disconnect" between NSA operators and lawyers in the early days of the program, such that those doing the searching didn't always know the rules. He pointed out that NSA is now hiring a privacy officer who will further monitor whether Americans' civil liberties are being protected.

Similar documents about the U.S. collecting phone records were previously declassified and published in response to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Obama administration has revealed others to persuade Congress to allow it to continue collecting the phone records.

Explore further: Supreme Court rejects plea to look at NSA program

Related Stories

Supreme Court rejects plea to look at NSA program

November 18, 2013

The Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in the controversy surrounding the National Security Agency, rejecting a call from a privacy group to stop NSA from collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers ...

Report: NSA collecting millions of contact listss

October 15, 2013

The National Security Agency has been sifting through millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts around the world—including those of Americans—in its effort to find possible links to ...

US agency reveals more secrets after court order (Update)

August 22, 2013

The Obama administration has given up more of its surveillance secrets, acknowledging that it was ordered to stop scooping up thousands of Internet communications from Americans with no connection to terrorism—a practice ...

Spy program gathered Americans' Internet records

June 27, 2013

(AP)—The Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens' Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed whom Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol ...

NSA collected thousands of US communications (Update 2)

August 21, 2013

The National Security Agency declassified three secret court opinions Wednesday showing how in one of its surveillance programs it scooped up as many as 56,000 emails and other communications by Americans not connected to ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected

February 20, 2018

Studying data from Twitter, University of Illinois researchers found that less people tweet per capita from larger cities than in smaller ones, indicating an unexpected trend that has implications in understanding urban pace ...

Augmented reality takes 3-D printing to next level

February 20, 2018

Cornell researchers are taking 3-D printing and 3-D modeling to a new level by using augmented reality (AR) to allow designers to design in physical space while a robotic arm rapidly prints the work.

What do you get when you cross an airplane with a submarine?

February 15, 2018

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed the first unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of traveling both through the air and under the water – transitioning repeatedly between sky and sea. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 20, 2013
Wow, obfuscation much? In both cases, the techies knew exactly what they were doing, and doing exactly what their managers told them to do. For Obamacare, the contractors wanted to maximize revenue, knowing there would be no punishment for failure to meet unrealistic deadlines. For NSA, the govt. EMPLOYEES knew they could do whatever they wanted knowing there would be no punishment for WILLFULLY and EGREGIOUSLY BREAKING the LAW. So, yeah, he has a point, but he should hide it with a hat. One case is about money, the other is about the 4th Amendment. I'm sure it's considered a minor difference inside the Beltway.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.