Snowden Slams Ongoing Impunity for NSA's Domestic Spying

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during a December 2013 interview in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: Barton Gellman via Getty Images)

Snowden Slams Ongoing Impunity for NSA's Domestic Spying

The whistleblower says "there aren't any" penalties for the agency failing to follow procedures intended to prevent abuse of a contentious surveillance law.

Exiled U.S. whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on Tuesday called out years of impunity for the NSA violating Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights.

Snowden's tweet came in response to CNNreporting that the NSA "failed to follow both court-approved and internal procedures designed to prevent officials from using a controversial foreign surveillance law to inappropriately monitor Americans' communications."

The revelations related to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) came in a new semi-annual government watchdog report to Congress. Snowden highlighted that such failures at the NSA are part of a long trend of abuse.

"This has happened year after year since the program began," said Snowden, who has lived in Russia since exposing U.S. government mass surveillance in 2013. Asked by one Twitter user about the penalties for the agency's conduct, he added that "there aren't any."

The controversial law, which enables the U.S. government to collect communications of foreigners located outside the United States without warrants, "broadly prohibits the intelligence community and law enforcement from targeting U.S. persons," CNN explained. However, a loophole allows for warrantless searches of "702-gathered information for Americans' records if 'a query is reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information.'"

Privacy advocates have long called on Congress to close this "backdoor search" loophole. More than two dozen groups wrote to lawmakers last summer that "ending this unconstitutional practice is imperative to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance does not swallow Americans' privacy rights."

As the unclassified version of the new NSA report details, the agency's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that U.S. person (USP) queries "performed against FISA Section 702 data did not always follow NSA procedural and policy requirements."

The OIG also found that "some selector information in an NSA tool's FISA Section 702 USP query module was not documented with consistency" and "an NSA query tool did not prevent certain queries containing known USP selectors from processing."

"The OIG made 13 recommendations to assist NSA in addressing these issues," the report notes. "Seven recommendations were closed prior to report issuance, and the actions planned by management meet the intent of the other recommendations."

An NSA spokesperson told CNN that the agency "remains fully committed to the rigorous and independent oversight provided by the NSA inspector general's office."

"NSA continues to employ measures to assist analysts in conducting their work compliantly with civil liberties and privacies protections," the spokesperson added. "As the OIG included in its report, the agency has in place multiple processes to aid in ensuring query compliance."

However, critics of the NSA continued to express doubt that much will change at the agency.

Noting the OIG report, Shadowproof managing editor Kevin Gosztola tweeted Tuesday that "it's almost like the NSA doesn't give a shit about procedures because there's no risk of consequences and politicians in Congress really don't care about accountability for abuses."

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