The National Security Agency (NSA) deleted data related to surveillance operations despite promises to preserve the data, according to a new report.
The data was connected to a case alleging the NSA surveilled American digital and telecommunications as part of a warrantless wiretapping program ordered by former President George W. Bush.
Politico reported that the NSA was under court orders to preserve data related to the case.
The NSA told a U.S. District Court judge this week that it failed to preserve the content of intercepted internet communications.
But the agency said in a January court filing that it can still comply with the requirements of the case, because it retains metadata related to the deleted information — which would indicate whether the individuals involved were surveilled.
The spy agency also revealed to the court that backup tapes of the intercepted communications were also erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, according to Politico.
“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” the NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified as “Elizabeth B.,” said in an October court filing obtained by Politico. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”
In an update to the court this week, an NSA official identified as “Dr. Mark O.” said the data wasn’t “specifically targeted for deletion” but rather “matched criteria that were broadly used to delete data of certain type," Politico reported.
David Greene, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation which has filed suit against the NSA on behalf of citizens, told Politico that the NSA’s deletion of the data was “really disappointing.”
“Even if you take them at their word that this was just an honest mistake, what it shows is despite your best intention to comply with important restrictions, it can be really difficult to implement,” Greene said. “It shows that with the really tremendous volume of information they’re vacuuming up, it is impossible to be meticulous.”
The revelation comes after President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE signed a six-year renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Friday.
Section 702 allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas. The intelligence community says the program is a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terror plots.