The National Security Agency broke federal privacy rules 2,776 times in 2012, according to an internal audit leaked by whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden.
Previous years also showed thousands of breach of privacy incidents, according to the Washington Post.
The majority of violations to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act occurred within the U.S., either to Americans or foreigners visiting the country.
Many FISA violations were due to operator error, for instance “insufficient or inaccurate research information” was collected on the target. Other incidents were due to computer error. The system does not recognize “roamers” or foreign tourists in the U.S. who bring their cell phones into the country.
The Post reported that "most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls."
The documents Snowden made public Thursday night "include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance," the Post said.
An anonymous NSA official told The Post these privacy issues are caught "at the earliest possible moment, [and] implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down. ... We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line."
But the NSA uses the term “incidental” to refer to collecting data on another American while targeting a suspected terrorism. This practice “does not constitute a . . . violation” and “does not have to be reported,” The Post reported.
Furthermore, a required NSA tutorial shows data collectors how to fill out oversight forms without giving “extraneous information” by using generic descriptions of evidence and including no detail. If information was withheld from internal audits, then the number of FISA infractions could actually be much higher.
“You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” said the annoynous official. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”