The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday accused the National Security Agency of using the holiday as cover to "minimize the impact" of its Christmas Eve document dump, which showed—amidst heavy redaction—that the agency's mass surveillance program targeting U.S. citizens went on for more than 10 years and was rife with both human error and technical mistakes.
"I certainly think the NSA would prefer to have the documents released right ahead of the holidays in order to have less public attention on what they contain," Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s national security project, told the Guardian.
Toomey told the paper that the documents, made up of annual and quarterly reports filed since 2001 and released in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the ACLU, "really vindicate some of the things [Edward] Snowden said when he first described the NSA surveillance in terms of the ability of analysts to conduct queries—without authorization—of raw internet traffic."
Posted to the NSA's website at 1:30 pm on Christmas Eve, the internal report reveals a large number of compliance violations, including examples of data on Americans being e-mailed to unauthorized recipients, stored in unsecured computers and retained after it was supposed to be destroyed, according to reporting by Bloomberg.
The Guardian reported:
Among the items redacted are sections detailing the total number of violations reported, with many ending up like this entry from 2013 “On [redacted] occasions during the fourth quarter, selectors were incorrectly tasked because of typographical errors.”
This makes the scale of the problem difficult to gauge. Toomey said the ACLU would continue to sue for the release of those numbers.
“More generally,” Toomey said, “just the range of different compliance violations makes it clear that at every step of the NSA’s collection of information there are vulnerabilities that leave the privacy of Americans at risk.”
"Hooray for transparency!" Meg Neal wrote at Gizmodo. "Of course, [NSA] released them midday on Christmas Eve, when basically no one would be paying attention to the internet or in the mood to think about unchecked government snooping for at least the next 30 hours."