US admits NSA illegally collected thousands of emails

A view from helicopter of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, January 29, 2010. Reuters/Larry Downing
In the ruling, Judge John Bates criticised the NSA over the breach of privacy, marking it as "the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection programme".
The National Security Agency may have unintentionally collected as many as 56,000 emails of Americans per year between 2008 and 2011 in a program that a secret U.S. court subsequently said may have violated U.S. law and the Constitution, according to documents released on Wednesday.
Officials revealed that a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled the programme illegal in 2011.
The communications were between people with no links to terror suspects.
The US government faces mounting criticism over its surveillance operations after the leaks of US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The court, whose rulings are normally kept secret, said the NSA may have violated US law for collecting as many as 56,000 emails on an annual basis between 2008 and 2011.
U.S. intelligence officials told reporters the NSA discovered in 2011 that it had inadvertently collected communications between U.S. citizens under a program aimed at monitoring foreign communications. The agency revealed its discovery to a secret court that oversees the NSA\’s activities, which ordered the agency to revise the program to keep domestic communications from being mixed in with overseas communications.
But in an 85-page ruling issued in October 2011, Judge James Bates concluded that the government had engaged in a pattern of misleading statements when it sought authorization to conduct the program. Judge Bates also suggested the NSA may have violated the U.S. constitution\’s prohibition against against "unreasonable searches and seizures"
The court found that the data gathering violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, prohibiting "unreasonable searches and seizures".
The NSA destroyed the information after determining it was mistakenly collected.
Intelligence officials told reporters they declassified the documents to show the NSA was not willingly eavesdropping on Americans\’ private communications. 
U.S. lawmakers are demanding more oversight of the agency and are preparing legislation that would curb U.S. surveillance operations.
Source: Agencies
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