The NSA continued collecting phone record metadata in October 2018 despite the lack of government authorization to do so, documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union following a freedom of information act lawsuit have revealed.
"These documents further confirm that this surveillance program is beyond redemption and a privacy and civil liberties disaster," ACLU National Security Project attorney Patrick Toomey said of the latest breach.
"The NSA's collection of Americans' call records is too sweeping, the compliance problems too many, and the evidence of the program's value all but nonexistent. There is no justification for leaving this surveillance power in the NSA's hands," Toomey added.
The redacted documents, released Wednesday, did not clarify how many records were collected, or which service provider had submitted the information, but did note that the records were gathered between October 3 and October 12 before the "anomaly" was picked up.
Last June, after acknowledging that it had illegally obtained records from a service provider, the domestic spy agency promised to purge hundreds of millions of metadata logs going back to 2015. The deleted data was said to include information such as telephone numbers and time stamps of calls and texts.
BREAKING: We've uncovered new documents that show the NSA once again improperly collected Americans' private call information — just 4 months after the agency asserted it had fixed “root problems” that led to its earlier failures to comply with the law. https://t.co/wJ9dCqdjvx— ACLU (@ACLU) 26 июня 2019 г.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal about Wednesday's revelations, NSA media relations chief Greg Julian said that although the agency had "lawfully sought data pertaining to a foreign power engaged in international terrorism," and that the telecomm provider had "produced inaccurate data and data beyond which NSA sought," leading to the halt in collections. Julian did not clarify which foreign power he was referring to.
The once-secret metadata collection program was started in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, with the information meant to help US spy agencies search for hidden terror cells. The program remained secret for over 11 years until former contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed its existence to the world in 2013. Snowden's leak prompted US lawmakers to try to reign in the NSA's activities in 2015, although the agency continued gathering records through subsequent years.
Commenting on the latest breach, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a long-time opponent of the metadata collection program, said that "every new incident like this that becomes public is another reason this massive surveillance program needs to be permanently scrapped."