NSA Downplays Privacy Breeches, Responds to "Post" Report

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-08_6985e4ac1e.jpgWin McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Privacy breeches are rare and unintentional, the National Security Agency told reporters, responding to The Washington Post’s story detailing thousands of times in which the National Security Agency overstepped its bounds in data collection.

“Per month, we do about 20 million queries, so if you take that number and make that the denominator,” John DeLong, NSA's director of compliance, said, “you get to essentially a .005 error rate. We’re talking parts per million.”

In the last year the NSA saw 2,776 incidents in which agency overstepped its “collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications,” the Post reported Friday, citing an internal NSA audit the Post obtained and posted online. The NSA sought to place that number in context.

When mistakes do occur, the NSA seeks “to detect them and correct them at the earliest point possible,” DeLong told reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon. DeLong focused on unintentional errors in searches through collected information like phone records.

While DeLong repeatedly said the Post had not uncovered any willful abuse of NSA data collection, he did admit that intentional privacy breeches have happened, while maintaining they are “extremely rare.”

“When they do occur they are detected, corrected, reported to the inspector general and appropriate action is taken,” DeLong. “The number of willful violations is miniscule—tiny … a couple over the past decade.”

NSA plans to publicize documents on its oversight practices, DeLong said, stressing that NSA is keeping tabs on its employees.

“We do watch what people do, we watch what machines do,” DeLong said, repeatedly adding that, “no one at NSA thinks a mistake is okay.”

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