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Government Documents Released In ACLU Lawsuit Show Few Violations Of Privacy Safeguards

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WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies engaging in electronic surveillance are failing to meet privacy safeguards in only a small number of instances, newly released government documents conclude.

The documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit say the government is purging from its files information gathered as a result of surveillance procedures that weren't properly followed as required by amendments in 2008 to federal surveillance law.

One document, a semiannual assessment for early last year by the U.S. attorney general and the director of national intelligence, says the number of compliance incidents remains small, particularly when compared with the total amount of surveillance activity. The more than 900 pages of material do not quantify the surveillance activity.

An oversight team assembled by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence "has not found indications ... of any intentional or willful attempts to violate or circumvent the requirements" of the 2008 surveillance law, the semiannual assessment adds.

"The incidents themselves must be examined, since each – individually or collectively – may be indicative of patterns, trends, or underlying causes, that might have broader implications," the assessment concludes. "Certain types of compliance incidents continue to occur, indicating the need for continued focus on measures to address underlying causes."

The ACLU, which sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act, is challenging the constitutionality of the 2008 law in federal court, arguing that judicial review is inadequate.

It allows the government to obtain broad, yearlong intercept orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that target foreign groups and people, raising the prospect that communications with innocent Americans are swept in. The court approves how the government chooses the targets and how the intercepted American communications are protected.

Regarding U.S. citizens outside the United States who are targeted for surveillance, the 2-year-old amendments give the attorney general and the DNI in emergency situations up to seven days after an operation begins to get certification from the court.

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