(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union released a trove of documents on Wednesday that show the National Security Agency has improperly collected millions of private phone calls and texts from Americans since about 2015.
The most recent mass collection occurred in October 2018 as the result of an error, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU.
The civil liberties organization called for the dismantling of the NSA’s surveillance apparatus as a result of the recent disclosure.
“These documents further confirm that this surveillance program is beyond redemption and a privacy and civil liberties disaster,” said Patrick Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The NSA’s collection of Americans’ call records is too sweeping, the compliance problems too many and evidence of the program’s value all but nonexistent. There is no justification for leaving this surveillance power in the NSA’s hands.”
What makes the October error particularly egregious, according to the ACLU, is that it occurred only four months after the NSA divulged it deleted millions of similar records due to a similar error.
The documents further indicate the agency used improperly collected information to spy on certain targets in February 2018, leading to a record purge later that year in June, four months before more records were collected in an allegedly legal fashion.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the NSA to obtain a secret court order requiring telecommunications companies to hand over telephone and text records if they are deemed relevant to an international terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.
But civil liberties groups have long fretted the section is abused and ordinary Americans are being surveilled on a regular basis — a worry that was bolstered by Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the government’s widespread spy mechanisms and furthered Wednesday by more evidence that the private communications of ordinary American citizens are ending up in government hands.
The NSA issued a statement Wednesday saying the improper collections were due to “technical Irregularities” and have been addressed.
“Since that time, NSA identified additional data integrity and compliance concerns caused by the unique complexities of using company-generated business records for intelligence purposes,” the agency said. “Those data integrity and compliance concerns have also been addressed and reported to NSA’s overseers, including the congressional oversight committees and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
The ACLU sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee arguing Section 215 has never successfully stopped a terrorist attack and instead allows unconstitutional government snooping on citizens.
There appears to be bipartisan momentum to stop the NSA’s authority.
Republicans Rand Paul and Justin Amash joined Democrats Ron Wyden and Zoe Lofgren to introduce a bill called the Ending Mass Collection of Americans’ Phone Records Act, which would end the spying program while stripping the NSA of the authority to renew it.
Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy indicated earlier this year that the Trump administration would not ask to restart the spying program.