The National Security Agency illegally collected tens of thousands of emails between Americans in violation of the fourth amendment to the US constitution.
In his 86-page opinion, declassified on Wednesday, Judge John Bates of the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court wrote that the government informed the court that the "volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe".
"If you have a webmail email account, like Gmail or Hotmail, you know that if you open up your email program, you will get a screenshot of some number of emails that are sitting in your inbox," an intelligence official who would not be identified publicly described the problem to reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.
According to The Fisa court, based on models provided by the NSA, the surveillance agency was collecting up to 56,000 purely domestic communications a year in the three years before the court ruling, as the American daily Washington Post reported.
"NSA has acquired, is acquiring, and if the certifications and procedures now before the Court is approved, will continue to acquire, tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications," Bates wrote in his ruling.
Wholly domestic communications are banned from the NSA's collection under section 702 of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act.
Intelligence officials on Wednesday's conference call said that the Fisa court paused the program but said it was "technologically impossible to prevent this from happening".
In a footnote, Bates wrote that the court was "troubled that the government's revelations regarding the NSA's acquisitions of internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program".
Source: News Agencies, edited by website team