NSA’s ridiculous notion of transparency

A semiannual FISA compliance report describing rule violations reveals more redactions than printed text

Topics: ProPublica, NSA, NSA surveillance, fisa amendments act, ACLU, ,

NSA's ridiculous notion of transparency (Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed)
This originally appeared on ProPublica.

ProPublica Last week, the Washington Post published an internal audit finding the NSA had violated privacy rules thousands of times in recent years.

In response, the spy agency held a rare conference call for the press maintaining that the violations are “not willful” and “not malicious.”

It’s difficult to fully evaluate the NSA’s track record, since the agency has been so tight-lipped on the topic.


What information about rule violations has the agency itself released? Take a look.

That is the publicly released version of a semiannual report from the administration to Congress describing NSA violations of rules surrounding the FISA Amendments Act. The act is one of the key laws governing NSA surveillance, including now-famous programs like Prism.

As an oversight measure, the law requires the attorney general to submit semiannual reports to the congressional intelligence and judiciary committees.

The section with the redactions above is titled “Statistical Data Relating to Compliance Incidents.”

One of the only unredacted portions reads, “The value of statistical information in assessing compliance in situations such as this is unclear. A single incident, for example, may have broad ramifications. Multiple incidents may increase the incident count, but may be deemed of very limited significance.”

The document, dated May 2010, was released after the ACLU filed a freedom of information lawsuit.

As the Post noted, members of Congress can read the unredacted version of the semiannual reports, but only in a special secure room. They cannot take notes or publicly discuss what they read.

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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