August 21, 2013
Declassified National Security Agency documents show that it scooped up as many as 56,000 emails and other “wholly domestic” communications with no connection to terrorism annually over three years.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has authorized the release of three secret US court opinions  Wednesday. The documents show how the NSA inadvertently collected tens of thousands of emails and other communications by Americans over three years, despite the fact they had no links to terrorism.
The NSA collected huge amounts of data passing through fiber-optic cables in the US. It then stored the material, along with a selection of foreign communications. Though domestic data was not officially targeted, the agency was unable to filter out communications between Americans, the reports said.
When the NSA reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 — three years after Congress authorized the surveillance programs that led to the improper gathering — the court found the collection unconstitutional and ordered the agency to find ways to limit what it collected and how long it kept information.
The judge John D. Bates said that the government had “advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” according to the declassified 86-page opinion.
Clapper said that following the ruling the NSA changed how it gathered information so as to segregate the transactions of Americans which were deemed to be wholly domestic. In 2012, the agency destroyed the information that it had collected.
The announcement from Clapper comes after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents to the Guardian and The Washington Post about the huge surveillance programs of US and UK spy agencies.
The British government has since made the Guardian destroy Snowden’s files under the threat of legal action, citing reasons of national security.
However, the Guardian said the material still exists in the US and Brazil, and that it will still publish relevant stories on the issue.