Typing errors led FBI/NSA to spy on wrong people

Typing Errors Led FBI To Spy On Wrong Targets: Report
Typing Errors Led FBI To Spy On Wrong Targets: Report

The FBI might be spying on you –– but before you start fighting back with methods your ninth grade copy of "1984" taught you, take a look at the embarrassing reason why the agency might have tapped your phone: National Journal reports typos have led to unintended American targets coming under the agency's watch.

The Justice Department's inspector general reportedly " ... found that the FBI's corrective measures have not completely eliminated potential intelligence violations resulting from typographical errors in the identification of a telephone number, email address, or social security number."

Although typos are not a malicious or deceitful source of wrongful spying, the issue is bringing the practice of National Security Letters back into the spotlight.

The use of National Security Letters, or NSLs, has been controversial since the Patriot Act loosened standards regarding the practice following 9/11.

A NSL is similar to a subpoena but does not require a judge's approval. They are designed to help agencies, like the FBI, demand customer information from companies such as banks, telephone corporations and internet providers. These requests cannot be for actual content of emails or phone calls, but phone and email records, checking and savings accounts standings and credit reports are fair game.

Companies are not allowed to tell anyone about an agency's request for an NSL, so there is arguably no oversight of the practice.

Yet the Electronic Frontier Foundation says more than 300,000 NSLs have been issued since the Patriot Act.

Which has to make one wonder, with human error alone, how many of those National Security Letters were accidentally used to spy on non-targets?

The report did say the FBI has fully implemented 23 of the 28 recommendations by a previous inspector general report. Better record keeping and training were advised in the most recent report to improve upon the five remaining recommendations –– which the issue of typos fell within.

Although there is no way to know if you're the subject of an NSL, some are fighting back against what they see as agencies infringing on their right to privacy.

A Washington Post article published last year reported five methods of avoiding agency spying. Among them were browsing under the program Tor, which allows you to keep your IP address secret, and making phone calls with Silent Circle –– a program that is reportedly impervious to wiretapping.