Who’s Watching Over the Surveillance Programs of the United States?

If you’ve ever wondered how the futuristic, one-government (or heavily policed) worlds featured in some of today’s movies got to that point, take a long, hard look at the power struggle that ensues between the common man and the elite (or wealthy or powerful). In recent news, the public has become increasingly aware of evidence that highlights an abuse of power on the part of government surveillance programs in the U.S. The United States would like to shift the blame and attention on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (who has since fled to Russia), but the fact remains that the public’s privacy is breached by higher governmental and political authorities on a consistent basis.

There is no doubt that the NSA (National Security Agency) is guilty of violating federal law, and breaching the privacy of thousands both inside and outside of the U.S. According to top-secret internal NSA documents leaked to the Washington Post by Snowden, the NSA routinely gathers emails and phone call metadata on residents of the United States without obtaining proper authorization to do so. This news couldn’t have come at a worse time for the White House, which has been trying to drum up support for sweeping surveillance programs to act as a countermeasure to possible terrorism.

It’s pretty hard to gain the trust and support of Americans to allow the NSA to continue their monitoring of the correspondences and actions of U.S. residents when they apparently have ignored the need to gain permission or approval of the public to conduct their business in the first place. In light of increasing headlines in the news, recent attempts to convince the American public that the NSA was simply doing its job under lawful circumstances now seem ridiculous.

The documents that the Post have obtained reveal that the agency failed to get federal warrants or other authorization before snatching up email and phone call metadata on Americans and U.S. residents. The Post reported that NSA auditors pinpointed 2,776 “incidents” that involved “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications” during a time period that included the second quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. The audit report that dates back to May 2012 indicated that causes of the incidents included “operator/human error” and technical glitches that led to the gathering of both foreign and domestic communications.

In order to gain a better understanding of the incidents appearing in the audit report, you should note their definition of the term as being “any violation, whether deliberate or accidental, of court-ordered procedures that govern how surveillance is to be handled involving “U.S. persons” worldwide – whether they are abroad or in the country.”

The scary part about the audit is that it did not include the entire operation of the agency, and the information that the Post received only reflects reported incidents associated with the NSA headquarters located in Fort Meade, Maryland, and a few other locations close to Washington. A larger number of violations could have very well come to light if the agency was scrutinized as a whole.

The NSA’s interception of international data that lumped together U .S. and foreign e-mails that the agency cited could not be separated has been called one of the most serious violations. Interestingly, the actions of the collection program were actually deemed unconstitutional by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2011.

Because of NSA’s violations coming to the forefront, it has caused many Americans to wonder just who is watching the surveillance programs in the U.S., and making sure they play by the rules …as well as follow the law. This is just one of many of the kinds of actions taking place behind closed doors that can affect the rights and privacy of Americans in the future.