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NSA Inspector General Report Finds Intelligence Storage Process Poses ‘Significant Risks’ for Civil Liberties

A German police officer scans an ID card with a phone in Dortmund, Germany, June 7, 2019. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

A report from the National Security Agency Inspector General’s office released Thursday found that the agency’s current policies for storing intelligence derived from intercepted communications may pose a threat to civil liberties.

Current SIGINT collection policies allow the NSA to retain data for varying lengths of time depending on different laws governing collection. The OIG report found that in some cases the NSA retained collected data for a longer period of time than regulations allow.

“The OIG’s findings reflect significant risks of noncompliance with legal and policy requirements for retention of SIGINT data,” the report reads. “These requirements include established minimization procedures for NSA SIGINT authorities, meaning that the deficiencies we identified have the potential to impact civil liberties and individual privacy.”

The report recommended several steps the NSA could take to update their SIGINT retention policy, some of which have already been implemented.

The news comes amid renewed congressional scrutiny into the process used by government agencies to obtain FISA warrants, following DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

That investigation began due to suspicions the campaign was working with Russian operatives to obtain dirt on rival Hillary Clinton. The FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page as part of the investigation. IG Horowitz harshly criticized the FBI’s handling of the process to obtain a FISA warrant.

“The circumstances reflect a failure, as we outline in the report, not just by those who prepared the applications [for a FISA warrant], but also by the managers and supervisors in the Crossfire Hurricane chain of command, including FBI senior officials who were briefed as the investigation progressed,” Horowitz said on Wednesday.

Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) commented on Wednesday that colleague Mike Lee (R., Utah), who has warned of possible abuses of civil liberties by the federal government, was on to something.

“Because we’ve now seen the abuses we were warned about, you can smirk again, you were right,” Tillis told Lee on Wednesday during a congressional hearing into IG Horowitz’s report.

 

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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