The New York Times reports:
The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.
Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.
The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.
The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved. […]
Officials would not discuss details of the overcollection problem because it involves classified intelligence-gathering techniques. But the issue appears focused in part on technical problems in the N.S.A.’s ability at times to distinguish between communications inside the United States and those overseas as it uses its access to American telecommunications companies’ fiber-optic lines and its own spy satellites to intercept millions of calls and e-mail messages.
One official said that led the agency to inadvertently “target” groups of Americans and collect their domestic communications without proper court authority. Officials are still trying to determine how many violations may have occurred.
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